Green therapy

Dear Artist, In 1984, Edward O. Wilson introduced the “Biophilia hypothesis.” His idea was that there’s an instinctive bond between humans and other living systems — animals, plants, etc. Leaning on the earlier work of Erich Fromm, Wilson defined Biophilia as “the urge to affiliate with other forms of life.”

Edward O. Wilson, Ph.D.
photo by Beth Maynor Young

More recently, Bob Stone, a researcher in Birmingham, UK, has done some amazing experiments in hospitals and nursing homes. He puts large flat-screen terminals near patients’ beds. The 24-hour imagery on these screens mimics the actual time of day, including sunrise and sunset. The scene might be a fairly static beach or woodland view with the occasional passage of birds or animals. Audio completes the picture. Guess what? Patients cheer up, become more alert and engaged, have lower blood pressure, and act happier. Believe it or not, this phony environment even works a bit better than pushing people out into familiar gardens in wheelchairs. In another experiment, this time in the USA, children with ADHD were subjected to actual greenery. Measurable amounts of calm, focus and improved concentration followed after about 20 minutes. They’re calling it “Green therapy.” Plein air painters have known about this sort of thing for some time. The “event” of outdoor work somehow soothes the savage breast — after a couple of hours even problematic people can be positively mellow. As an antidote to the sweaty anxiety that many painters have in their studios, green therapy calms and centers quicker and cheaper than a Zen master. Brilliant for the artist’s soul; over time it also improves quality. I know of sunless painters who toil below screaming projectors and dictated deadlines. I’ve shouted down their stairways to get them out and into the greenery. Funnily, in a world of rugged individualists, it’s probably fear that keeps them in their caves. Like the old folks of Birmingham, they get some sustenance from their reference material. Back in the UK, one lady, bedridden and virtually silent for two years, was totally perked up by her seaside-mimicking terminal. “Get my hat,” she called out. “I need to take a bus to the sea. Is there a bus?” Best regards, Robert PS: “Unlike phobias, which are the aversions and fears people have of things in the natural world, philias (such as Biophilia) are the attractions and positive feelings that people have toward certain habitats, activities, and objects in their natural surroundings.” (Edward O. Wilson) Esoterica: I’m laptopping you from a sport-fishing boat off the west coast of Vancouver Island. Over the inter-boat radio, my buddies are completely concerned with fish. Back at the lodge, dinner-table conversations can be positively fishy. Captains of industry, these guys hardly mention their offices or factories. I’m the only one supplementing fishing with painting. My advice: Take a bus to the sea while you still can. Hey, gotta go, there’s a coho on my line. FYI, last year I took some green therapy in the same spot. If you’re interested, you can read about it and see pictures here.   Precious, fleeting moments by Bill Erlenbach, Edmonton, AB, Canada  

“Winter Majesty”
acrylic painting
by Bill Erlenbach

There is a place in Jasper National Park where you can sit on the shores of the Athabasca River and watch the evening light on Mount Kerkeslin while the sunlit upper reaches of Mount Edith Cavell peek over the hill to the southwest. I have spent too few evenings sitting there. Only once did I try to paint it plein air and never in the studio. It is a place of such deep peace that merely picking up a paint brush seems invasive. Perhaps one day soon I will attempt a studio painting of it. At best it will be a faint shadow of my sanctuary away from the flat land city with its belching oil refiners I currently call home. There are 2 comments for Precious, fleeting moments by Bill Erlenbach
From: Diane Artz Furlong — Jul 26, 2013

Beautiful painting, Bill.

From: Michael McDevitt — Jul 26, 2013
  Receiving the energy of the Universe by Verna Korkie, Canmore, Alberta, Canada  

Verna’s mini Butchart Gardens

Green Therapy has been a huge part of my life, and getting bigger — bigger than painting, at least in the summer. I spend up to 6 hours a day nurturing the flowers and plants (my more practical husband Bob does the veggies and has been the Corn King in our rural subdivision acreage for 38 years!). Working and weeding and bending and schelpping and transplanting (I managed to transplant 7, what turned out to be, sowthistles!), transports me unnoticed into the Zone, capital ZED! It is as if I am directly receiving the energy of the Universe — as if I have a wind-up thing on my back and I am the toy. I am just so happy and content during the Co-Creation of these mini Butchart Gardens. Wouldn’t it be great if everyone could experience this? There is 1 comment for Receiving the energy of the Universe by Verna Korkie
From: Wallace Gibson — Jul 28, 2013

Those who have a sanctuary in a garden are blessed. In today’s apartment living now growing worldwide, this is not always possible. Still, where there’s a will there’s a way.

  Up in the treetops by Marny Lawton, Hampton, Connecticut, USA  

“Reflections – Blue Moon”
oil painting, 24 x 18 inches
by Marny Lawton

That explains it — why I love my studio and feel so ‘at home’ and serene when I’m working in it… I’m up in the treetops (actually top floor of my barn surrounded by trees), filled with the sound of birds, buzz of mud wasps, cool breezes, warm sun and cool rain. I love it and it’s where I’ve been the most productive!       There are 2 comments for Up in the treetops by Marny Lawton
From: PKW — Jul 25, 2013

What a super painting! It fits so well with the topic. Thanks for sharing it, PK

From: Paul Garesche — Jul 28, 2013

Elevation elevates

  Alive in the out-of-doors by Melanie Jordan, Minneapolis, MN, USA   Last Friday and Saturday I spent many hours outdoors at the Sundance Ceremony in Pipestone, Minnesota. The sweeping expanse of the prairie sky, the gentle breeze and the many different plants and birds were food for my soul. Watching the sunset over the tree-raising ritual while the moon hung in the changing light was breathtaking. I am interested in learning how to paint clouds now, and flowers, and people and landscapes and . . . .   Who is Anonymous? by Bruce Argue, Lenham, Kent, England  

oil painting
by Bruce Argue

Who is this Anonymous? Please Robert, don’t allow this irritating person/s to soil your postings. In your Twice-Weekly letter, July 5, 2013, Susi Franco confronted ‘Anonymous,’ and rightly, and was highly critical of the contents of their remarks and their failure to be man/woman enough to comment using their own name. (RG note) Thanks, Bruce. We will continue to accept “Anonymous” as some artists prefer to protect their careers. Others want to be honest but not to disclose themselves to be owners of health or mental issues. Our main problems with “Anonymous” is that we can’t illustrate his/her work or confront him/her directly. See letters below. There is 1 comment for Who is Anonymous? by Bruce Argue
From: Victor Langford — Jul 28, 2013

Don’t argue, Bruce, anonymity is here to stay. Especially now that we know they are tracking us.

  Cheating gallery by Anonymous   One of my galleries cheats me. He regularly jacks up my standard agreed prices and says it’s something to do with the framing. It isn’t. He puts regular middle-priced frames on them. What should I do? (RG note) Since the advent of the Internet, serious collectors go online to competing dealers to get an idea how your work is selling and the range of your prices. If you do have your own website you need to publish prices there too to confirm what can be expected in the galleries. Art dealers who jack your prices above published standard prices will simply sell less of your work. Smart dealers know this.   Angry art instructor by Anonymous   My art instructor encouraged me to paint like him, and now that I do he trashes my work at every opportunity. What should I do? (RG note) Don’t paint like him. That encouragement to do that was only an exercise that he thought you needed before you found your own style.   Communing with Nature by Anonymous   Several posts ago, you wrote about depression and self-worth. Having been very discouraged at my prospects as an artist for a long time, what you said rang true with me, and so I began to look for all the videos and other material I could find that dealt with improving self-esteem and a sense of deserving good things. My attitudes have begun to change and, already, more opportunities and successes have come my way. Regarding Green Therapy, I paint regularly with a group of artists, and find that it really helps my outlook just to be outdoors for the day. I get to commune not only with other artists, but Nature itself.   Sensory garden helps patients by Dr. Chris Ellis, Pietermaritzburg, South Africa  

Town Hill Psychiatric Hospital in Pietermaritzburg

Town Hill Psychiatric Hospital in Pietermaritzburg was built in the late 1870s and opened in 1880. It was designed and built in the grand fashion of Victorian mental institutions; most of its buildings are now listed historical monuments as examples of Victorian colonial architecture. At the beginning of the 20th century, it was almost a self-sufficient community, with vegetable gardens, a piggery, quarry and permanent residences for many of the staff, gardeners and workmen. The first medical superintendent, Dr James Hyslop, planted the trees, many of which still remain and must be up to 100 years old. There are groves of bamboo, yellowwood, cycads, enormous azaleas and avenues lined with jacaranda and London planes in the grounds, which give it the atmosphere of an English country estate in a condition of mild decaying colonial splendour. In 2009, we decided to design and plant a sensory garden in a spare patch of ground outside Peacehaven ward, which houses long term female patients and some younger patients who are awaiting placement in the community. Sensory or therapeutic gardens are used to provide a healing and nutritional environment for patients, staff and visitors. The garden consists of exotic and indigenous shrubs and herbs that are visually pleasing to the eye and stimulating to the senses of smell, touch and taste. It provides a relaxing atmosphere and therapy in the form of gardening, watering and empowerment activities for patients. Obviously, poisonous or toxic plants are avoided, as well as shrubs with thorns. We still don’t understand all the sensory pathways of taste and smell. There appears to be some crossover, as the sensations that we consider being taste can actually be conveyed by smell, and vice versa. Smell is also tied up (via the limbic system) with memory, and hence the nostalgia induced by certain smells. Emotion is also enmeshed with this system, so that events, places or people who are emotionally significant, are likely to be remembered. These are ancient primaeval pathways that began to evolve in our forebears’ forebears over 400 million years ago (H. sapiens does not seem to be in a hurry over these matters). Patients may also use the herbs from the culinary section, such as parsley, basil, mint and thyme, to spice up their normal diets. We plan to map out trails so that patients and staff from the other wards can visit as part of therapeutic exercises. This is all part of a strategy to create a healing, natural environment to aid the recovery of our patients. There is 1 comment for Sensory garden helps patients by Dr. Chris Ellis
From: Denyse Milliken — Jul 30, 2013

How wonderful!! When I was last staying in a hospital, they had a beautiful atrium with an indoor pond & fountain. After laying in bed for 3 days, and being put in traction to heal my back, when I was able to get around again on my own, I visited the atrium 3 times a day for at least a half hour each time, and I know it contributed much positive feelings towards my healing, and emotional outlook during my recovery :)


Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for Green therapy

From: BJ Billups — Jul 22, 2013
From: Kathryn — Jul 23, 2013

I have also learned the positives of being a cityphilia (if that’s the word) Coming back from vacation to London and Paris, I was finally able to see many works of art that I previously was only able to admire in an art history book. Standing before a Bouguereau or seeing stages of Degas’ artistic development is awe inspiring. Being in a room with several Sargents is also a treat. The architecture, the cafes, the decorative pastries, the rush of the city can fill the mind and spark an imagination. The finely manicured topiaries and breathtaking fountains of the many quaint parks are a cool step away from the surrounding buzz (if not overcrowded.) I live surrounded by green and love being outdoors, but I have also come to realize that human achievement and activity found in cities are a good balance to our well being. I wondered why such a quaint little town in central New Mexico would have signs and walls littered with graffiti. Immersed in the great outdoors, youth could find nothing better to do and turned to heroin for their fix. They were bored. Meanwhile, a retired art instructor had a wonderful gallery of photos was immensely enjoying his life and all the nature surrounding him. I understand both perspectives – green can be isolating and leave us to our thoughts whether happy or depressed. When we are fulfilled, experienced, and busy with our lives, green is welcome. When we are stuck, searching, in need of socialization and opportunity, green can be seen as a road that goes nowhere. To many a book, TV, or paintbrush fills that need. To others, time with friends, time in a museum, time absorbing information and maybe running with the crowd is time well spent. Sometimes a little green therapy is good, other times it might be gray and multicolored.

From: Houston Phelps-Mercic — Jul 23, 2013

I like the “green” venue of plein air painting. After coming in I always feel as though I’ve done a job of work, as well as I can, and save or scrub the panel depending on the image. No one wants to scrub an image, but it’s the cost of progress. In my case, it’s almost always a better feeling to have come back from the field than to emerge from the studio. Oddly, the clean up time is, for me a recompression. It’s the space between the freedom to act (paint) and the exigencies of “real life”. But if I’m really, really tired, and the recliner beckons, I’m rarely so comfortable as after a long afternoon out of doors with my French easel.

From: Betsy Frahm — Jul 23, 2013

Though I am not a landscape artist as a rule, I do love being outdoors. I work in portable mediums for that reason. i love the beach and the ocean and cannot stand to be locked in my studio in the warmer months, so you will often see me with my art sitting under an umbrella on the beach, or sitting on the boardwalk. Being outside in natural surroundings is incredibly energizing and calming at the same time and is my favorite place to work. In the winter, I am always in front of large windows overlooking deep forest in my backyard….anything to bring nature inside when I can’t be outside. One of these days I will attempt a landscape outside in oils. But for now, I will settle for just being able to be outside enjoying the beauty that only nature can provide.

From: Marny Lawton — Jul 23, 2013

That explains it – why I love my studio and feel so ‘at home’ and serene when I’m working in it…. I’m up in the treetops (actually top floor of my barn surrounded by trees), filled with the sound of birds, buzz of mud wasps, coolness of breezes, warm sun and cool rain. I love it and it’s where I’ve been the most productive!

From: Edna V. Hildebrandt — Jul 23, 2013

Come to the forest and hear the nightingales sing, come to the forest and hear the crickets chirping, come to the woodlands and see the squirrels scampering from the ground to a tree and a chipmunk joining in. Come to the forest and listen to the rustling of the leaves as the wind passes through. Come to the forest and see a brook or creek meandering through. Come to the lake and see the lily pads. This is what a think of when I try to get an idea for a composition. It is sad that urban areas are encroaching on the these wonders of nature where we meditate or commune with nature. I think it is a wonderful idea to have murals of nature in children’s rooms and other works of animals that children love.

From: Linda Pogue — Jul 23, 2013

Oh… you are so right about Green Therapy. A few years ago, when my husband had cancer, a doctor friend of his, in Ireland, said “Let nature help you heal.” It was the dead of winter so I took him to a Butterfly Conservatory so he could breathe in some ‘green’. By the way………. he’s just fine now.

From: Alison Nicholls — Jul 23, 2013

As an avid field sketcher (usually in Africa), I’m not surprised to hear the results of this research. If I am unfortunate enough to be hospitalized anytime in the future, I will make sure I have 24 hour access to some of the excellent Africa waterhole webcams available. When I recover I will worry about switching back to the correct time-zone!

From: Jackie Knott — Jul 24, 2013

I am fortunate to live where I do in South Texas (we refer to regions here because of its size). The climate is so mild we usually can be outdoors year round, and rarely in coats. I saw an old advertisement from the 1920’s for San Antonio: “Where the sunshine spends the winter.” Love that. A house with full windows has a wonderfully positive influence. I’m sitting on my couch and see to my right a ridge two hundred feet high. Two days ago I watched two magnificent bucks make their way down the rocks and through the trees. I see that same view from my studio window. I look to my left out the patio door and see a valley and hills miles away. Sun streams into house. We’ve all been in houses that were dark as caves and have to have artificial light even at midday. I know a person who seemed to be in a perpetual funk. She has no outside activities and found out she has a critical vitamin D deficiency. After a few weeks of vitamins the difference in her was amazing. Her prescription and therapy was “go outside.”

From: Ted Berkeley — Jul 24, 2013

My biophilia consists of looking at gorgeous 20 year old female Swedish blonds!

From: Claire DeLong Taylor — Jul 24, 2013

A couple of years ago, I decided to take a small area of weeds on our property and turn it into a moss garden. It’s come a long way since I started and the best part is that it has become my refuge during a very stressful time, when I have been unable to work on my painting. I like to think of its care as my current “art.” There is nothing more rejuvenating to the spirit than to take in all that the natural world has to offer.

From: Valerie Norberry VanOrden — Jul 24, 2013

Ditto for Green therapy, we go for a drive on back-roads, yes it is a “waste” of gas, but watching the landscapes of houses, farms, fields and occasional cattle and horses puts my husband and myself in a mellower mood. SW Michigan has lots of farm scenery. About 17 miles south of where we live there are Amish farms, which adds to the pictorial stories. We enjoy it a lot.

From: Shawn Jackson — Jul 24, 2013
From: Tatjana Mirkov-Popovicki — Jul 24, 2013

You read my mind! I am presently horrified of my studio easel. The closest I made to it recently is a desk next to the garden view window and only after the mosquitoes come out. The life is outside!

From: Barb Alexander — Jul 24, 2013

You know-I actually MET Ed Wilson and got to talk to him for about an hour when he was here! The entomology group got VIP treatment, and I have photos!!!!To meet him is to fall in love.

From: Peesh McClanahan — Jul 24, 2013

It is only now imagining a savage breast and how I can paint one that I write with great delight and appreciation. Thanks so much for this probably unintended image!

From: Paul Scott — Jul 24, 2013

Not only is the outdoors and the greenery good for the soul and the attitude, it generally generates the opportunity to carry an easel some distance, or at least hike a bit. One of the big dangers of art is the sedentary lifestyle. Your shouting down the (presumably) basement stairs Mr Genn is probably going toward an artist who is growing more and more out of shape.

From: Pavel Zorn — Jul 24, 2013

Philiaphilia: The problem of having too many favorite places to go and things to love.

From: Barny Lee — Jul 24, 2013
From: John F Burk — Jul 24, 2013

What a wonderful idea Bob Stone has! It’s so simple and basic, it’s brilliant.

From: Rick Rotante — Jul 24, 2013

I’ve been there and done that, and ultimately, I would rather be indoors. I enjoy painting in my studio, with music, coffee, air conditioning and a roof over my head.

From: Julie Brooks — Jul 24, 2013

Green therapy… morning from my front porch.. Aitutaki, Cook Islands.

From: Joyce Kahn — Jul 24, 2013

Right now I’m painting on beautiful Monhegan island. I’ve always loved plein air painting so much more than studio.

From: Deon Matzen — Jul 24, 2013

A friend and student of mine is in her mid 70’s and was living on her own and, until recently, was going strong though, from the results of a stroke, used her “non-dominant” hand. Over the years that she has been a student of mine she has gained fine motor skills and now is painting at a high skill level in watercolor and selling her work. About 2 months ago she suffered a series of falls which left her without the ability to walk. After surgery, colostomy, drugs etc., she is now in an assisted living facility, getting more and more depressed. It was sad to see her mentally going downhill, especially with the prospects that she would have with only her left arm to work with. Two weeks ago she was very down. I had brought her a small painting box that I use for plein air studies and a stack of reference photos. When I returned this past weekend she had completed 2 pieces and was half way through another. Not only was she painting, but her whole demeanor had improved. She is now overcoming her sadness about her situation and getting on with her painting. It gives her great peace of mind and it’s a joy to see her at work.

From: Clive Pierce — Jul 24, 2013

Part of the joy that the patients have in Bob Stone’s research is based around the return to familiar places from a person’s youth. I’m a believer in this concept. Places I played as a child or rambled when I was a teen hold a special place for me now as an artist and I am somehow content to paint there. UK

From: Petra del Sol Eubanks — Jul 25, 2013

I have a set of color therapy glasses and I wear the color I feel my body needs at the time. There are seven colors and each one represents a mood or a feeling. I wear green a lot, which is for harmony, healing, peace and love. Orange is associated with sociability, creativity and happiness.

From: Sue — Jul 26, 2013

Good call allowing anonymous entries! It’s important for whistleblowers and those with opinions that could wrongly influence their associations or even trigger hurtful actions. Occasional annoying entries by anonymous contributors aren’t any worse that annoying entries by the rest of us – LOL! There is so much to learn here and I am often prompted to extend the thought where I least expected!

From: Dick Anonymous — Jul 26, 2013

You are right Sue, this is the most informed art site on the net

From: Lynn — Jul 27, 2013

How wonderful to see someone is researching the effects of the green world on health in hospital settings. Having had a number of relatives who were hospitalized in different facilities these past two years, I’ve been struck by the horrid colors of the walls in their various hospital rooms: dark grey-mauve, sickly grey-beige and an even sicklier midtone grey. Surrounding the ill with such drab, depressing colors can’t possibly do them any good. Who makes these terrible choices? Wouldn’t colors such as green, yellow or apricot in very soft pastel shades be so much more comforting and uplifting to someone who is seriously ill?

From: Wolfgang N. Freiheit — Jul 28, 2013

Societies are just coming to realize the restorative value of trees. As little as fifty years ago all people could think about was cutting them down and using them for firewood or furniture. In my country they fine people heavily for cutting down trees, even when they are on your own property.

From: Laura Rechwan — Jul 31, 2013
From: Jack Friesen — Jul 31, 2013

When the weather is good I set up on the patio and am so much better for it.

     Featured Workshop: Michael Gibbons 072613_robert-genn Michael Gibbons workshops Held in the beautiful Yaquina Bay area, OR, USA   The Workshop Calendar provides up-to-date selected workshops and seminars arranged in chronological order.      woa

Decker’s Tug

oil painting on canvas, 18 x 29 inches by Christine Hanlon, CA, USA

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