ASHLAND Art in healing therapy is an expansive subject including the visual arts, poetry, music, dance, storytelling and the many other ways people work and create art.

One area many might not think about art is public art in a medical setting. Far from the antiseptic atmosphere of hospitals and physicians’ offices in the past, health-care workers recognized the mental and psychological benefits of the addition of art in waiting and treatment areas. The use of color and art create a relaxed atmosphere and help reduce stress and anxiety.

Professor Semir Zeki, a neurobiologist with the University of London, scanned the brains of volunteers while they viewed 28 works of art they found beautiful. He found the volunteers had an immediate release of dopamine — a chemical related to feelings of love. Stress and anxiety were reduced and other health benefits were seen, including  improved immune system, better sleep, lower blood pressure, better relationships and, in general, more happiness.

Experts believe slowing down one’s pace and actively observing art is good for those who are well, too. In fact, art could help prevent the onset of diseases related to stress and anxiety.

One of the best examples of art in a medical setting is at King’s Daughters Medical Center.

KDMC Director of Integrated Communications Tom Dearing said there are five major sculptures by Morehead artist Sam McKinney. Each piece was commissioned and site-specific to the medical center.

His pieces are:

n “Trinity,” a large, stainless steel heart across from the park on 22nd Street.

n “Healing Hands,” positioned near the entrance of the heart enter, suspended above and visible on the firstHEALINGnd second floors.

The glass hands were made from molds of the hands of the healthcare workers at the cath lab.

n “Flow of Life,” a bronze fountain near the middle of the hospital in a secluded courtyard. The lifesize fountain showing a family at play.

n “Rhythms,” an outdoor piece on the 23rd Street side of the hospital.

The 25-foot-high, 15-foot-wide sculpture is made of stainless steel bronze and water.

n “Jubilance,” a 25-foot-high work positioned inside the doors on the left. One-inch stainless steel tubing composes the spira and the birds are thermoformed plastic with a radiant light film.

Art fulfills a fundamental need in a complex world. What else is doctor prescribed, scientifically proven and free? Spending time and really looking at and thinking about a piece of art has no adverse side effects and is a proven method of reducing stress and anxiety. It’s beautiful world: slow down and enjoy it.

TOM WORDEN is a freelance photographer living in Ashland.