Impacts of Public Art on Society
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Published: Thu, 14 Jun 2018
Art is wholly subjective. Ten people may have ten different interpretations of one single work of art. On the most basic of levels they could love it, hate it or be indifferent to it. On a more informed level they may read different information from it, and ask different questions as to its artistic value. Human behaviour, by the literal meaning of it, is equally as subjective. Each individual has human traits that are based on personal experience. However, group dynamics can be quantified objectively using controlled research methods.
For this essay I shall examine how art is used to encourage certain changes in human behaviour, both mentally and physically. This dissertation aims to understand how art affects the behaviour of an individual and the associated effects of the environment on the development of character of an individual as a person. Taking into consideration that art and human behaviour are subjective I intend to research, review, analyse and interpret how organisations have utilised one for the outcome of the other. I shall look at how public buildings, whose main purpose and function are not to display art, have embraced shapes and colours in order to guide the emotional and physical state of its patrons. During the analysis I shall be examining the different theories of experts in this argument. I will be considering the artistic viewpoint and the scientific approach as well as a cultural and philosophical perspective.
In my conclusion I hope to have ascertained enough information from my research to confidently state my opinions on how art, in the simplistic terms of shape and colour, has been used to project a subliminal, psychological impact on the people that come into contact with it.
The main question I am asking in this essay is whether artistic forms, be it painting, sculpture, shape or colour, has an impact on people and their behaviour in an environment that is not necessarily expected to display art. This question will enable me to research the impact of public art in buildings such as hospitals, schools, libraries and other public locations where steps have been taken to introduce art outside the confines of a museum or gallery. Therefore the objective of this dissertation would be to create an environment that would be beneficial to pupils, patients, clients and even the entire community.
The connotations of colour and human behaviour, specifically mood, have been understood and utilised for millennia. During the Vedic Age in India (1500BC – 600BC) there was a conceptual belief that colour could represent different emotions, one such concept proposes that: “there are three interwoven mental states which are; energy, inertia and clarity and that we all fluctuate between degrees of these states. These three qualities are given colours… Energy is symbolised by red, inertia by black or dark blue and clarity is light and colourless.” (McDonagh 2003: 170). Considering that this is not a new subject there is a wide selection of literature available on this particular subject.
I am attempting to focus my essay on the four most relevant subjects that encompass the whole of my research: Connotation of Colour throughout history; Psychology and Physiology of Human Behaviour (in controlled environments); Public Art in alternative locations (not museums or galleries); and Philosophy of Pragmatism in Art. My literature review will be made up from a combination of books, journals, research studies and interviews. Due to the overlapping nature of this essay I shall be focusing on a wide aspect of subject matter including art history, architecture, philosophy, psychology and sociology. I have accumulated around fifty sources for this essay and have systematically narrowed them down to include only the information that is relevant to my purposes. Having read through the information I have discovered that what started as a simple question has unearthed a number of different theories and interpretations; including opinions that were contrary to my original beliefs; thus forcing me to truly take on an objective view of my work. Using critical analysis of the literature I intend to produce a well argued, objective essay that shall help me answer my original question.
During my research into the above subjects I found a number of published authors, sociologist, psychologists and artists who are experts in their particular field. It was both assuring and eye-opening to read and interpret their views and as such I believe they shaped my approach to writing this essay. I found some more important to my research than others, and these included the following: Malcolm Miles writing about public art in cities in his book ‘Art, Space and the City: Public Art and Urban Futures’; Alexander Schauss’ study on the affect of colour in a controlled; Carolyn Bloomer writing about the interpretation of colour in her book ‘Principles of Visual Perception’; psychologist Tony Cassidy and his research into colour tests in his book ‘Environmental Psychology: Behaviour and Experience in Context’; pragmatist John Dewey and his early twentieth century theories on the conception of art as a means of improving life; and author Christopher Day in his work on how colours can improve daily living in his book ‘Environment and Children: Passive Lessons from the Everyday Environment’.
The methodology I am using in this essay will predominantly be data-analysis from previously researched case studies, journals and published works. I shall, however, use data-gathering in my essay wherever possible; be it from interviews with art curators, members of the public or my own observation.
I have chosen to analyse previous work and research on my subject matters due to the wealth of information available. Where I believe that vital information or data is missing I have decided to collate it myself. I believe this will allow my essay to objectively interpret cited work but also to include subjective and personal opinions on a range of subjects. After all, art and human nature are subjective topics.
A questionnaire that aims to investigate what works and what does not work and whether art serves a specific purpose will be given to participants. Within the time constraints to complete this dissertation, a questionnaire is useful for this kind of investigation as it can reach more people. Observation is considered too time-consuming, taking too long to be meaningful. Other factors that need to be taken into consideration include obtaining/seeking permission/consent from the head teachers of the schools or directors of the hospitals to carry out the investigation. A letter to the school or hospital to obtain their approval and consent for the investigation will be written, in addition to a letter to the parents of the pupils who are under the age of 16 for their consent and approval for their son/daughter to take part in the investigation.
Human Research Ethics (Ethical issues)
Due to the nature of this essay I shall be examining, amongst other findings, how human behaviour can change in relation to the environment that they are in. Because this deals with the mental and physical state of an individual I understand that I am in a position of trust, and as such any data will be gathered in strict confidence. However, because a large percentage of my findings are from data that has already been gathered I do not find myself in a position where my research ethics are questioned. I understand that if I was to delve further into the research on human behaviour patterns I would need to pay close attention to confidentiality and care towards any participants in my research; especially if I was to recreate the ‘Baker-Miller Pink’ test, in which individuals who have just been arrested are place in a pink holding cell and their mental and physical state is measured. It would also be of utmost importance to deal with any participants in prison or mental health facilities with integrity and diplomacy.
Analysis and Interpretation – Connotations of Colour
In the search for an ideal environment that would benefit people who come into contact with it I believe that the first place to look is in the past, and understand how history has harnessed colour as a means of expressing emotion. The idea of colour may seem like a simple concept but, depending on your particular viewpoint, it can prove to mean many different things. In the world of physics colour is determined by the wavelength of light; to a physiologist and psychologist colour is perceived by neural responses in the eye and brain; to the sociologist it is linked with our own culture and to the artist it is an expressive creation. The basic premise of colour, that is, the colour that we can make ourselves, is that it is made up of three primary colours; red, blue and yellow: “Primary colours are ones that cannot be made by mixing other colours.” (Morris 2006: 56). When the primary colours are mixed they create the secondary colours: “The secondary colours are orange, green and violet. They are produced by mixing two primary colours.” (Morris 2006: 56). Finally there are the tertiary colours; these are created by “mixing any primary colour with its adjacent secondary colour… produces a tertiary colour” (Morris 2006: 56) and include combination colours such as orange-yellow and blue-green. The full spectrum of colour is possible by mixing colours in relation to the desired outcome, like adding ingredients to a recipe. The origins of humans recreating colour can be traced back to primitive cave paintings, examples in Europe date back 32,000 years. Although primitive by today’s standards, these depictions of wild animals by the hunter-gatherers were exquisitely painted on the rock surface using red and yellow ochre, hematite, manganese oxide and charcoal. Even though the use of reds and yellows was mainly due to the materials available to them, the colourful imagery could be described as abstract insomuch that the actual animals were not as vividly coloured as the artwork portrayed. Interestingly the two colours used are primary colours.
As mentioned previously the ancient Indian cultures believed that different colours signified separate mental states. The Egyptians also used colours to connote different meaning in that they “originated the idea of red fiends or red devils, the origin of the Christian image of a red Satan. In later dynasties, words with evil connotations were written in papyri in red ink.” (Eiseman 2000: 35). Red is a colour that is perhaps the most powerful hue and its meaning around the world has always symbolised energy and life; the word ‘red’ in many different languages is derived from the word for ‘blood’. However, different cultures interpret colours in different ways; like the Egyptians before them, the Japanese saw red as the colour of demons and devils, yet in the Middle East that imagery was not apparent: “During the early Kamakura period, about AD 1200, Japanese artist Jigoku Soshi painted his ‘Hell Scroll’ with frightening red demons chasing tormented victims; while to Persians and Turks, as reflected in their magnificent carpets, red symbolizes happiness and joy.” (Eiseman 2000: 32). In the West our cultural understanding of semiotics has conditioned us to add extra information to data that we can see. In the UK red is seen as the colour of danger; a red light means stop, a red traffic sign is a warning. Because red is such a vibrant colour, and the fact that is the first primary colour of the spectrum of light, it holds an unrivalled importance in the way it used in the natural and man-made world: “Reds are generally regarded as stimulating and exciting.” (Miller 1997: 104). In terms of human physiological reaction to the colour red, it is thought to “speed up heart and respiration rates and to raise blood pressure, and [is] associated with strength, passion, and the colour of blood and fire.” (Bloomer 1976: 120). Red has always been seen as the colour of power and energy; this has been demonstrated in the socio-political arena by the Communist movement; so much so that during the McCarthy Communist witch-hunts in 1950s American, the phrase ‘Better Dead than Red’ was echoed around the country. The phrase is a strong indicator of how powerful the word ‘red’ truly was. Only three letters long, it embodied all that was ‘un-American’ in the world, promoting fear and a Cold War that lasted over forty years, yet when include with two other colours it symbolized undying patriotism: ‘red, white and blue’.
Looking at another primary colour, blue, it is interesting to see how different cultures perceive this particular colour to that of red. In the modern West the most simple, almost child-like reading of the two colours is ‘hot’ and ‘cold’. However, throughout history the reproduction of the colour blue has meant more than just a signifier for cold water. In ancient Egypt the colour was used to connote loyalty and virtue: “these identifications with the hue go as far back as 1340BC to the Egyptian civilization and the reign of King Tut.” (Bleicher 2004: 37). However, whereas the Egyptians considered blue to be a symbol of truth, the Cherokee tribes and the Japanese see it differently: “to the Cherokee, blue is a symbol of defeat. In Japanese theatre, blue is the colour for villains.” (Hullfish & Fowler 2003: 28). In Western culture the colour blue was not widely used until the Church began to paint religious figures, notably the clothing of Virgin Mary, with a pigment extracted from a blue gem stone, lapis lazuli. This religious link led the colour to symbolise “piety, truth and goodness” (Bleicher 2004: 37). Today blues are considered: “calming, restful, serene, cool, comfortable, sober, and contemplative.” (Miller 1997: 104) and are thought to “reduce blood pressure, pulse, and respiration rates.” (Bloomer 1976: 120). Navy blue, a dark blue, is still used in the clothing of the business world to promote a feeling of truth and honesty. Blue is perceived as being a neutral colour in so much that it is the colour of the sea and, unlike land, is not owned by tyrannical, or democratic, rule. It also symbolises a form of depression, as in ‘feeling blue’ and can connote coldness, or even something that is beyond the boundaries of acceptable behaviour, that is, blue language or blue movie.
The final primary colour, yellow, has always held an integral part of any man-made creation. It is the colour of the sun; the shining star that gives energy to the planet. The ancient civilizations used the yellow as a symbol of their beliefs and religion: “As a colour sacred to the Chinese and important to the Egyptians and Greeks, yellow gradually became a symbol of power.” (Walker 2002: 24) In many indigenous tribes the colour yellow bore the deepest religious meaning, in south America the Aztecs believed yellow was the colour of life and food and the Mayans celebrated the colour as one that had the power to bring daily life: “The Mayas of Yucatan assigned it to the dawn and the east.” (Brinton 2004: 237). However, the fact that yellow was so important to the ancient civilizations was detrimental to the beliefs of the early Christians, and yellow began to become associated with negativity: “Yellow has been associated with deceit, cowardice, and jealousy” (Walker 2002: 24). In certain parts of Africa yellow is associated with love “because it’s the colour of honey.” (Kaldera & Schwartzstein 2002: 21). Gold is a softer shade of yellow and therefore seems to shed any of its negative images, but perhaps this is because the connotations are so intrinsically linked with wealth. Today yellow is considered “sunny, cheerful, and high spirited, the happiest of all colours.” (Miller 1997: 105) and it is also seen as being an expansive colour, one which appears “to spread out as well as to advance” (Swirnoff 1988: 38). Throughout history yellow will always be seen as a bright, force-giving colour. This is perhaps due to the very child-like imagery of the sun; give almost any child a yellow crayon and ask them to draw the sky and in the corner of the picture appears a bright yellow orb with rays of sunshine emitting from it. The negative connotations seem to be rooted in cultural and religious differences, even racism. Chinese and Japanese people were often referred to as ‘yellow’ by an ignorant West. This was fundamentally based on the complexion of the skin; however, early Chinese rulers were called yellow emperors due to the power imagery of the colour, and the importance of the Yellow River.
Obviously the primary colours are not the only colours that civilization has encapsulated in culture, religion or art; the secondary and tertiary colours are just as important. Unfortunately I do not have the space to describe every single colour but feel that some important ones need to be mentioned. Green is a very popular word in that its connotation seems to be of more value than its denotation. Like ‘red’ was in the 1950s, the word ‘green’ means far more than a colour. Green is an ecological, economical and political word that covers anything from Amazonian rainforests, nuclear power stations, recycling and political parties. In wooded and forested areas of the planet green is the background colour, in cityscapes green is what the majority of people miss; ‘the grass is always greener’ is a Western saying that strikes home in this situation, as in things are always better on the other side of the fence, country or world. If looking at a globe of the planet the two main colours are blue (water) and green (land). Green can be considered neutral, but at the same time it means jealousy; a human trait that has shaped our political world for millennia. This duality allows green to be “both warm and cool; it contains both the calming presence of blueness and the energy of yellowness.” (Miller 1997: 104). Green can be the bridge between the natural and man-made world: “Low saturation greens can serve as a transition between architecture and nature.” (Kaufman & Dahl 1992: 130).
The combination of red and blue creates purple, a hue that “can evoke delicacy and richness or appear unsettling and degenerate.” (Miller 1997: 105). Purple is a very regal colour and is often worn by royalty and world leaders during ceremonies; the leading figures in the Roman senate would proudly display purple within the design of their togas. Purple is cold colour and can connote physical harm such as a bruise or visible veins. Yet the pretentiousness of the colour is by far its strongest meaning and is considered “dignified, exclusive, but lonely, mournful, or pompous.” (Mahnke & Mahnke 1993: 13).
Orange is the mix of red and yellow, the two energetic primary colours. From a geological perspective this is the combination of lava and the sun. Historically orange has always had connotations of heat, energy and intensity; mainly rooted from its representation of the flames from a fire, and the warming embers of man-made safety. Perhaps it is this safety that affords the colour to be neither good nor bad: “Orange has always suffered something of an identity crisis. It has spent its history playing second fiddle to red, and occasionally to gold.” (Varley 1980: 194). It is hard to think of an example where orange is used as imagery: “It has virtually no negative associations, neither emotionally or culturally… and its emphatically positive meanings are few.” (Varley 1980: 194).
Even though technically black and white are not colours, but the result of an object reflecting or absorbing light wavelengths, they form an important role in the world around us. Things are labelled in the most simplistic terms of being either black or white; it is a situation where there can be no middle ground, it is right or wrong, yes or no. Cultural and political education enables us to know that this is very rarely the case, and using a similar analogy: there is no black and white, only different shades of grey. What black tends to imply is nothingness, a void. In contrast white is pure, enlightenment and goodness. In terms of race using black as a prefix seemed to connote the opposite, making the word derogatory; black magic, black arts and black mark.
The connotations of colour are complex and centred on diverse cultural meanings from different civilizations around the world. The meaning of a word can change over the course of history. The language surrounding colour is so advanced that even on the most basic of levels one person could identify a certain shade of colour positively, yet another could read it negatively. With this in mind I can move on to how art and colour is used to study the complexities of human behaviour.
Psychology and Physiology of Human Behaviour (in controlled environments)
The next logical step in my search for the most beneficial environment is to use the above information on colour and relate it to scientific study, predominantly in the areas of psychology and physiology. The simplest and most common definition of psychology is that it is the scientific study of behaviour, in other words psychology is “the science that makes use of behavioural and other evidence to understand the internal processes leading people and members of other species to behave in the ways that they do.” (Eysenck 2000: 3). Physiology and in particular human physiology: “studies the functions and activities of living human bodies and their components” (Torshin 2007: 11). In this essay I shall use physiology to study human responses such as heart rate, blood pressure and the effects of tension. As mentioned at the beginning of this essay most of my data has been gathered from previous studies.
I intend to investigate how mood and emotion can be measured, and ultimately influenced. Mood states were not always welcomed by the scientific community; the behavioural and cognitive paradigms so prevalent in the 1960s and 1970s often tended to devalue the significance of moods. Frequently, mood and effect went without mention in prominent analyses of behaviour (Zajonc 1980). However, this devaluation has changed in recent times and most behavioural analyses today include significant affective components (Tomkins 1981). Mood is clearly a bio-psychological process that involves the whole individual. In other words, mood would not occur without biochemical, psycho physiological and cognitive components, as well as subjective reactions: “Implicit assumption that mood is nothing more than a response caused by cognitive, physiological and biochemical events. Thus, subjective feelings are regarded as the last process.” (Thayer 1989: 5). It is my opinion that subjective feelings interact together to affect the mood of the individual. Mood is related to emotion, but when the term ‘mood’ is used, it usually implies a longer course of time, which is probably the central distinction between the two. In 1965 the Nowlis Mood Adjective Check List (MACL), a statistical method to define and analyse mood, was introduced that consisted of 33 adjectives selected from a large pool of emotion and mood terms. The subjects are asked to check each item that applies to their mood state of the day (Frijda 1986: 181). I have prepared and sent out questionnaires to subjects that ask them to disclose if they believe they have an emotional response from specific colours. It is the psychological and physiological response to colours that I believe is most beneficial to my research.
In 1978 Professor Alexander Schauss of the American Institute for Biosocial Research in Tacoma, Washington set up a scientific experiment to study the effects that colour had on human behaviour. Working from initial ideas he had read in published work by Swiss psychiatrist Max Luscher, Schauss found that concentrating on a certain shade of pink (originally labelled P-618) after physical exercise lowered his heart rate, pulse and respiration as compared to other colours (Schauss 1981: 1). With the assistance of the United States Naval Correctional Centre in Seattle, Schauss was able to begin his study. Schauss renamed the colour to ‘Baker-Miller pink’ in dedication to the two officers at the centre, Commander Miller and CWO Baker. The walls and ceiling of one of the admission cells was painted in Baker-Miller pink (figure 1), while the remaining cells were left untouched. Newly confined prisoners were systematically admitted to the cell and observed for fifteen minutes during which no incidents of erratic behaviour were recorded (Eiseman 2000: 40). This research continued for 156 consecutive days, beginning on 1 March 1979. The results during this period were reported to the United States Navy’s Bureau of Naval Personnel, Law Enforcement and Corrections Division, Washington, D.C., stating: “Since initiation of this procedure on March 1, 1979, there have been no incidents of erratic or hostile behavior daring the initial phase of confinement.” (Schauss 1981: 1). The data from this study showed that after only a period of fifteen minutes exposed to the Baker-Miller pink, detainees were not demonstrating any violent or aggressive behaviour. This calming effect could actually continue for up to thirty minutes after the subject had been removed from the cell. So successful was Schauss’ experiment that he took it to a county sheriff’s office in California where he noted that its effectiveness was increased within a smaller space; the smaller the cell the less chance of violent behaviour. (Schauss 1981: 1). The Baker-Miller pink has been used widely in detention facilities: “The use of this colour in juvenile correctional centres, psychiatric hospitals and its testing under laboratory conditions with students confirms its effect in suppressing violent and aggressive behaviour.” (Cassidy 1997: 84)
In 1988 an experiment was set up to determine the effects of colour in the office workplace in relation to the mood of its workers. Professors Nancy Kwallek, Carol Lewis and A.S. Robbins of the University of Texas assessed the effects of a red, green and white office environment on worker production and mood. It was predicted that “those who worked in the red office would find it a more tense environment and would make more errors.” (Miller 1997: 104). It was also expected that the subjects working in the green office would perform better than those in the red office. The white office was included as a comparison as it is the most common colour for an office working environment. The white office was expected to provide results that were better than red, but worse than green. In actuality the results told a different story. The workers in the red office actually made fewer errors than those in the white or green offices, even though they found the colour “distracting.” (Miller 1997: 104). The research team found that subjects working in the white office made more errors than those working in the red or the green office. On a personal level the subjects stated their preference to working in the white environment, considering it a “more appropriate colour for an office than either red or green.” (Miller 1997: 104). However, in response to this test, Ainsworth, Simpson and Cassell in their study, Effects of Three Colours in an Office Interior on Mood and Performance in 1993 found “no effect of colour on performance or emotion.” (Cassidy 1997: 85). Their hypothesis led them to believe that the warm colour, red, would induce high arousal and activity, whereas blue will induce feelings of low arousal. However, their results did not support their hypothesis. They concluded that the reason for error was in their methods, not in their actual hypothesis. If the data gathering was flawed then we must omit their findings and focus on the original test. The red office environment produced the least amount of mistakes, whereas the white office was the preferred colour of the subjects.
What these two studies show is the importance of colour and how human behaviour reacts to it. The science behind this is complex and an understanding of how a human ‘sees’ colour is vital. Colour exists everywhere there is light. Sir Isaac Newton, analysing the rays of the sun, detected that all the different colours, except extreme purple are contained in light. The brain responds to it instinctively and unconsciously. As Schauss demonstrated, the colours within our immediate environment affect our mood and ultimately our behaviour. This behaviour is individually subjective but reactions to colour combinations can be predicted with startling accuracy: “Science has always recognised the link between colour combinations and mood or behaviour.” (Conway 2004: 76). The exact science of how we see colour is due to how the various wavelengths of light strike our eyes in different ways, affecting our senses: “Within the eye, the retina converts these waves into electrical impulses, allowing the brain to decode this visual information. This information is passed to the hypothalamus, the part of the brain governing our endocrine system producing hormones, and hormones affect our mood.” (Conway 2004: 76). In other words the eye must operate with light for the brain to interpret colour: “Everything we see is coloured. Nothing visible is free of colour. This has profound consequences, for colour affects the autonomic nervous system, muscle tension, cortical activity, enzymatic and hormonal secretions.” (Day 2007: 115).
With this in mind it is important to quantify how different colours affect our behaviour, both mentally and physically. Our cultural and historical upbringing will play a part in how we react to certain colour schemes. In simplistic terms it could be argued that warm colours such as reds, oranges and yellows will incite an active response, exciting the subject; whereas cooler colours such as blues and greens will calm and quieten them. In fact it has been argued that the power of colour placement is a science and should not be left to the uneducated: “So powerfully do they influence mood, and such potential do their relationships have for harmony or discord, spirit-uplifting beauty or teeth-gritting ugliness, that colours are too important just to leave to fashion or dramatic whim.” (Day 2007: 116). But how does colour affect human behaviour? In the Schauss experiment one colour managed to pacify, it even lowered pulse and heart rates of its subjects. This goes one step further than the subject merely relating to the notion of seeing a soft colour. One theory is that we do not only ‘see’ with our eyes, but we indirectly see with the glands that produce hormones in our brains; the pineal gland, a gland that produces melatonin, a hormone that may weakly modulate wake and sleep patterns: “Although a person may not be able to differentiate colour, transmitters in the eyes pick up information from visible radiant energy sources and transmit that energy to the hypothalamus, and the pineal and pituitary glands. So it may be possible to ‘see’ with your glands.” (Eiseman 2000: 40). This theory is one that Schauss promotes in his Baker-Miller study: “One possibility includes the existence of a hormone (e.g. thyrotropin-releasing hormones, TRH, thyroliberin) acting as a neurotransmitter to the hypo-thalamus or pineal gland. This could in turn effect other cells in the adrenal medulla, supraoptic nucleus of the hypothalamus, the hypothalamo-hypophyseal portal system, and the turberoinfundibular cells of the hypothalamus.” (Schauss 1981: 1).
What these theories allow is the possibility that in a controlled environment, clever use of colour can and will affect the psychological and physiological behaviour of targeted subjects, albeit in a basic premise of colour application. Moods are influential, but they not always control behaviour, the tenden
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