The Power of Positive Distraction


Positive Distraction

When we hear the word “distraction”, we often associate it with something that gets in the way of us reaching our goals. Here at Art Force, our space is filled with “distractions”. Can you guess what might be the positive distraction filling up our space? Art of course!

This term is not all our own. In healthcare settings employing evidence-based design, positive distraction is just one of the many benefits associated with art. So, before we go any further, what exactly is positive distraction?

Positive distraction can be defined as, “an environment feature that elicits positive feelings and holds attention without taxing or stressing the individual, thereby blocking worrisome thoughts.” With that definition, of course there are some exceptions. Even though yesterday was Halloween, art that embodies horror is probably not a positive distraction (for most). Nor is overly complex abstract pieces that make the brain burn calories as the viewer struggles to grasp the content and meaning. Indeed, this is the art that makes you feel happy, positive and optimistic for the future. It has a presence in the healing space without dominating the senses.

Healthcare Art

Taking things a step further, there is actually scientific evidence that shows what specific colors, imagery, and other factors elicit a positive, calming feeling when viewed. Particularly in the view of healthcare art, these colors are generally blues, greens, and colors that occur naturally in nature.

Healthcare Art
Healthcare Art installed by Art Force

Art Force has worked with many healthcare facilities to create calming positive environments for their patients. To delve deeper than just the images and colors chosen to elicit the powers of positive distraction, we created the Wings Suite: Empowering Health Challenged Artists. The Wings Suite showcases artwork from artists who have, or are still dealing with, health challenges. After all, who understands the role of positive distraction in healthcare better?


I live to paint. After my injury, art became my therapy in both a psychological and physical sense. I stretch and move my hands and body in needed movements while I enjoy the act of creation.

– Cliff Enright, Wings Suite Artist, part of the Still Life Collection

Art Force MSP

The entire Wings Suite and Still Life Collection speak to the power of positive distraction, empowerment, togetherness and shared experience in the healthcare environment. Even better, the Wings Suite is also wrapped into our new program, Art Force MSP: Our commitment to supporting local artists, charitable organizations and health challenged artist to help drive the creative economy forward.

Art Force MSP

With over 150 Client Partners, 30,000 pieces of artwork sold and a portion of each artwork sale going to charitable contributions, Art Force MSP has not only helped support and empower health challenged artists like Cliff, but it has given Art Force the ability to make over $100,000 in charitable contributions since 2013 through the Art Force Community Fund. We invite you to visit the page to learn more about becoming a client partner, especially if you work in the world of healthcare.

Each piece in the Wings Suite carries far more than appearance, or even feeling. Behind the works is a compelling story. These works are a celebration of emotional expression, rather than of the confines of our health limitations.


Art has always been a part of my life and is necessary to my well-being. Following my diagnosis and successful treatment for cancer I have immersed myself with greater intensity in my creative activities.  – Cecily Firestein, Wings Suite Artist, part of the Still Life Collection

Holistic Support – A Step Further

Art in healthcare settings also serve to address a more holistic approach to medicine. In order for art to elicit a positive feeling when viewed by patients, the preferred genre is representational images over abstract. Many scientific studies on the healing power of art show that viewing nature – real or simulated – can provide a considerable amount of recovery from emotional, psychological, and physiological stress.

This is because viewing nature manifests heightened positive feelings, reduced negative emotions, and changes in physiological systems. For example, a study done in 2003 was conducted to test the role of the physical environment in healthcare facilities. Researchers studied blood donors in a waiting room at a hospital. They found that the patients had lower blood pressure and pulse rates on days when a wall-mounted television played a nature videotape; compared to regular daytime programming which is usually shown. (Ulrich, Simons, and Miles 2003.)


Painting transition in landscape is a metaphor for the possibility of swift and positive change.  Through art, I define myself as human, not as one who suffers.  Art is hope.
– Aleta Wynn Yarrow, Wings Suite Artist, part of the Still Life Collection

Color in Healthcare Art

Color choice is crucial in creating positive distraction as well. Patients prefer the subdued, calming colors of the natural environment, which are often seen in representational works of art. Studies also show that less saturated colors are favored by anxious patients. Therefore, the feeling one experiences while viewing artwork may be brought on by the colors used.

Aside from creating a calming feeling when viewed by patients, research also suggests that positive distraction may be used as an attention grabber. A positive attention grabber can help ease the stress of the waiting time patients experience.


With severe illness I lost the balance in much of my life; health, work, and overall abilities. Creating works of art re-centered me and restored my sense of self,” – Donna Caulton, Wings Suite Artist, part of the Still Life Collection

As you consider positive distraction as a key element in healing environments, we hope one thing sticks out. Art can help. Hope creates healing. And sharing stories of perseverance, strength and continuing to create beauty in the face of difficult times can be a healing experience for everyone.

Sources: Ulrich, R.S., R.F. Simons, and M.A. Miles. 2003. “Effects of Environmental Simulations and Television on Blood Donor Stress.” Journal of Architectural Planning Research 20 (1): 38-47.