The restorative aspect of kinetic art

by Candyce Scott

Most people have experienced a feeling of elation in listening to music or watching the surf from the beach. There are visual experiences — such as watching a vibrant sunset or gazing at a beautiful piece of artwork — that causes an emotional response. These responses, in and of themselves, can be considered positive experiences that contribute to a person’s health. There is a strong relationship between art and well-being.

I first started making kinetic art in the form of large, hanging sculptures as mobiles. Suspended from a three-foot section of bamboo, the colorful pieces danced with the air currents. I soon realized their full potential when the strands became fourteen feet long and were suspended on multiple pieces of bamboo and installed in a three-story atrium. Suddenly people were affected in a mesmerizing kind of way as they looked up. Reminiscent of fall leaves, the sculpture shimmers as air currents keep it in motion. The colorful attention and slow motion give the sculpture its therapeutic, serene qualities.

To provide a work of art that can reduce stress and promote health through a visual emotive response is my goal. Being a Marylhurst student has given me the opportunity to explore the various ways that art affects health and wellness.

Stress is something everyone experiences to some degree. The bride in an upcoming wedding experiences stress, as does the person who realizes his car is going into a ditch. Some stress is good, some not so good. But the human body responds the same; it can’t tell the difference between good or bad stress. Stress-related illness can occur when the response is prolonged or persistent. Long-term chronic stress affects the immune system, leaving a person more susceptible to infectious diseases. Stress also affects some aspects of brain function such as memory, learning and judgment.1 Therefore, managing stress should be a part of everyone’s self-care.

There are many ways to manage or reduce stress. Stress reduction refers to whatever may help to balance the body’s natural physical, mental and emotional well-being. What works for one person may not work for someone else. Relaxation methods are numerous and have the effect of filtering out stress hormones.

One method is through art. The arts can play a vital role in creating an environment conducive to healing and speeding recovery. Natural scenery — whether viewed from a window, a picture or a video — has been found to reduce stress and promote positive moods. Through functional magnetic resonance imaging, Dr. Semar Zeki discovered that visual stimuli is linked to emotional response, and those responses have the ability to impact people’s health and well-being.3 The positive attributes of creative pieces of art stimulate both the imagination and the body. What is viewed is felt, and affects us in ways we may not have been aware of until recently.

Evidence-based art (such as a healing therapy), for example, provides a visual reference that depicts nature to emit a feeling of belonging and a sense of familiarity. This feeling of being connected can go far for someone who is confined or isolated. The right visual stimulus can evoke a resonance between the person and a natural setting. Nature scenes that provide restoration (stress reduction) might be: calm moving water, flowers, spatial openness, park-like scenes and birds.2 Large spatial installations of kinetic art, such as my mobiles, provide slow-moving colorful pieces that are representational of fall leaves. Both the motion and the color evoke a calmness that can be restorative.

People are most vulnerable when ill or in pain. Is it any wonder that it’s likely to find a fish tank with colorful tropical fish in the emergency room of a hospital? There is something therapeutic in the color and motion of the fish and the sound of the bubbles that make waiting just a little bit easier.

My kinetic sculptures are much like the tropical fish in the fish tank, but without the water. With any bit of a breeze they make a soft clacking sound as they touch one another. Kinetic art can make the waiting easier by reducing stress levels and promoting a calming effect.

We spend much of our time in life waiting for things to happen. We wait in lines at the bank, to see a movie and pay for our coffee. We find ourselves waiting for the dentist, waiting for the next bus or just waiting for our number to be called. With patience at a premium, and anxiety becoming the norm, is there any question that art can serve as a creative wonder? Something to pleasantly detract your attention just for a moment? Useful places for my artwork would be anywhere people are waiting — whether it is for a show to start, a plane to arrive or the doctor to call your name.

I have found something I am passionate about doing. I learned that the qualities that resonate with me are color, repetition and movement. My full intention and purpose is to combine my pieces into kinetic art that affects people in a positive way. Having found my passion later in life, I hope others find inspiration in it, as well.

Candyce Scott an undergraduate interdisciplinary studies student at Marylhurst University. She is a kinetic mobile artist; read more about her work at her website.

1. Schwartz, M. (2007). Robert sapolsky discusses physiological effects of stress. Stanford University News. Retrieved from
2. Ulrich, R. S., & Gilpin L. (2003) Healing arts: Nutrition for the soul. In S.B.  Frampton, L. Gilpin, & P.A.  Charmel, (Eds.), Putting patients first: Designing and practicing patient-centered care (p. 117-146). San Francisco, CA: Wiley.
3. Kawabata, H., & Zeki S. (2004) Neural correlates of beauty. Journal of Neurophysiology, 91 (4), 1699-705. doi:10.1152/jn.00696.2003.