Experiencing the unique art, artifacts, and architecture of indigenous cultures has long been a passion of Annette Ridenour. In her travels, Annette noticed that prehistoric peoples often used symbols that feature the circle, triangle and spiral. “These symbols are part of our cultural DNA,” said Ridenour. “When founding Aesthetics, I wanted to use them as well, to represent what we do and anchor our work.”
The prevalence of the circle, triangle and spiral show ancient peoples had understanding of the healing importance of the arts, and incorporated what they had learned in their movements, music, storytelling, and rituals. There are many surviving examples. This understanding was perhaps exemplified by the Greek physician Galen (129-217 AD), who in his efforts to develop the theory and practice of medicine brought his Roman patients out into the market place to be uplifted by people at work and play.
Storytelling was used by the Mansur Hospital in Cairo around 1248 AD. It was believed storytelling reduced a patient’s experience of pain. Florence Nightingale, one of the best-known people in Victorian medicine, understood the healing benefits of natural light, color, and a patient’s ability to see nature.
“It’s very exciting to see science and research finally catch up with what has been intuitively known for centuries,” said Ridenour. “They have learned that in the right environment, people can have less anxiety and stress, and allow themselves to enter a healing harmonic state. Our work draws on this research, and puts what we have learned to use in many different clinical environments.”
You can close your eyes, but you can’t close your ears
Early on at Aesthetics, it was realized that the visual built environment doesn’t function in exclusion of the audible environment, or without the other sensory aspects of life. There is a wonderful expression that illustrates the point, “You can close your eyes, but you can’t close your ears.” Thus, if you have a serene visual environment but are inundated by a cacophony of noise by machines and people, then the overall environment is not one of healing. “The number one area of patient dissatisfaction in hospitals is sound,” says Ridenour. As a result, planners world-wide have spent millions of dollars trying to suppress noise in hospitals. What has not been addressed, however, is what sounds are needed to create a more healing environment.
Over the past ten years Aesthetics has been working on this challenge through clinical studies of how specifically designed music affects healing. There are many studies about how music supports the healing of individuals and addresses specific health challenges, but few that look at how to specifically design music for the ambient environment of healthcare. Many answers can be found in the past or in our intuitive understanding of the world we already possess. Aesthetics is dedicated to bringing this knowledge to clinical environments.