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Tatha Gallery and the Health Benefits of the Salutogenesis Model

by Mark Cashley(more info)

listed in environmental, originally published in issue 218 - November 2014

The Tatha gallery is a cutting edge art gallery, run by health enthusiasts. It is situated on the southern banks of the river Tay and is drenched daily by the setting sun. The location between the Tay rail and road bridges is both stimulating and soothing and few places on the East Coast of Scotland could match its appeal, or its tranquility. This is partly why the founders of this unique concept decided to develop the gallery in Newport-on-Tay.

Tatha Gallery

Being keen cyclists and climbers the founders of the gallery knew of the benefits of exercise in health,[1,2] but from their regular activities they were also aware of the enhancing effect of a good environment on the activity and its enjoyment. So they researched the effects of people’s environment on their health. Interestingly this is a growing area of study and many architects,[3,4] as well as other professionals,[5] now encompass this idea into their work.

This type of thinking varies significantly from the standard medical model of health care, which is sometimes called the pathogenesis model. The word pathogenesis means the origin of disease and most traditional methods of health care concentrate on finding the cause of disease and then trying to eliminate it. However there is another way to look at health and it is called the salutogenesis model.[6] The word means the origin of health and under this system, people seek out and experience the situations that enhance their wellbeing.[7] By enhancing one’s wellbeing it is generally acknowledged that you increase your capacity to fight disease processes and therefore that you have a greater chance of staying healthy. It is well accepted that exercise is a major contributor to a healthy body, decreasing many different conditions including diabetes, heart problems, depression etc. There is also, however growing evidence that friendship and socializing also contribute in a major way to one’s health.[8] Of course there are many other beneficial factors in human health and visual stimulus is one of these.

Tatha Gallery

So as part of a larger center, where other sections such as the restaurant or chiropractic clinic are also contributing to the greater health of the people, it is the aim of this gallery ‘to change people’s lives through art’.  Watch the local nursery kids, who come in regularly, sit around a painting and sing songs to it and you can see that contribution. Their eyes light up, as, they are swallowed by the canvas, into a world that, only they know fully. With adults it is less obvious but still touching to watch, they are more reserved and judgmental but non the less they buckle under the visual pressure of some artists and become bewitched. Its not unusual in the gallery to see a walker from the Fife coastal path standing alongside a zimmer bound old lady, or to see a cyclist’s bike alongside a Range Rover  or Mini in the car park. The gallery seems to be accessible to most people and their faces seldom manage to refrain from displaying their emotions. This gallery is attempting to have a major health impact on its community firstly by improving the community then by changing people’s experience of art.

Tatha Gallery

Tatha sets out to create and stimulate emotions in a soft refined way, in an effort to let people reconnect with the more subtle aspects of life. No flashing lights or loud noises to drive an already overloaded reactive nervous system this is much more about deep connections. Jonathon Day[9] has said that, “In these dangerous and difficult days, we have need of works that help us understand who we are, where we come from and where we are going. Some might argue that this has always been the point of art”. Tatha however, believes and drives the idea, that this need, is just as important in safe and interesting times because vision is the  dominant sense that we use to connect with our environment and therefore the sense that drives our bodily reactions the most. 

How our body reacts to its environment is the very essence of health.  Do we over react to minor stresses? Releasing too much adrenaline and cortisol into our bloodstream, perhaps causing those elevated cortisol levels that interfere with learning and memory, that lower immune function and bone density, increase weight gain, blood pressure, cholesterol, heart disease... The list goes on and on.[9] Or do we release a slight increase in these hormonal levels, improving our performance and helping us attain self-set goals.

Katarzyna Marciniak  Ohio University[10] describes this so well in her book Streets of Crocodiles when she says

“people use art in all kinds of ways: to hinder or help revolutions; to incite or resist social prejudice; to high- light or condone an injustice; to conceal or unmask social anxieties; or simply to get an aesthetic high. As a viewer, you decipher the way that art makes you feel: you trace those feelings and the evocations they offer. Art can provoke, inspire, or disturb; it can open your eyes to worlds other than your own, or, as happened in the case of those who managed to draw while imprisoned at Auschwitz, it can keep you alive even in the face of death.”

It is this soft, self-recognition of emotion, the stimulus of the subconscious that engenders art with its health giving effects. When a painting truly connects with you it does more than make you like it at the time, it also changes the way you see things in the future.[11] Many of the beautiful things that surround us every day, do this to us, and we can improve that effect by altering our environment to enhance that.  Simply by moving a picture that we have had hanging for years at home we can grow a new appreciation for it, this gallery attempts to give its visitors subtle new visual experiences that last with them as they continue on their path through life.

However this also happens when we go on holiday or exercise in a park or on a beach. This type of visual stimulus lights up areas of our brain in a very specific way and causes a release of a unique blend of neurotransmitters inside the nervous system. These neurotransmitters are responsible for our emotions and take part in our reactions to our environment. When we stimulate the brain this way, we change the physical connections in the nervous system and therefore change how the brain reacts to the same or similar visions in the future. This ability to change these connections is called neural plasticity. It is present throughout life but gradually decreases as we get older. In other words we can slowly change our reaction to our environment if we provide the correct stimulus, no matter our age.

With this idea as a central philosophy for the gallery, the founders have set about creating a space where people feel free to look at and admire art. They have created a space that is as tranquil as its surroundings and yet it is visually stimulating. It’s a place where cutting edge artworks blend into everyday life and somehow still leave a lasting effect. There is no compromise on quality and yet no pressure to sell, the main object of the gallery founders, is for them, to enjoy the benefit that visitors derive from their visit.  To this end, the gallery has so far, restricted its exhibitions to works from artists who are members of the Royal Scottish Academy, but in amongst those painters are Psychologists and philanthropists. It is the gift of great artists to share their own emotions and temper and improve the emotions of their observers, this gallery has truly attempted to facilitate that. They understand that a quadriplegic artist like Dawson Murray, who paints with his eyes alone, has much to share with and teach to the rest of us in society. The idea of caring and communicating in a gentle way is key to Tatha’s existence.

It remains to be seen if such ideals can be achieved in the private gallery setting.

References.

1.         Eyigor S, Akdeniz S. World J Clin Oncol. Is exercise ignored in palliative cancer patients? 10;5(3):554-9. doi: 10.5306/wjco.v5.i3.554.  Aug 2014.

2.         Anderson D, Seib C, Rasmussen L. Maturitas. Can physical activity prevent physical and cognitive decline in postmenopausal women?: A systematic review of the literature. 79(1):14-33. doi: 10.1016/j.maturitas.2014.06.010. Epub 2014 Jun 20. Sep 2014.

3.         Dilani, A. P. D. Psychosocially supportive design: A salutogenic approach to the design of the physical environment. Design and Health Scientific Review, 1(2), 47-55. 2008.

4.         Golembiewski, J. Start making sense; Applying a salutogenic model to architectural design for psychiatric care. Facilities, 28(3). 2010.

5.         Karla Gambetta-Tessini, B.D.Sc. et al. Stress and Health-Promoting Attributes in Australian, New Zealand, and Chilean Dental Students J Dent Educ  77 (6): 801-809. 2013.

6.         Lindström B, Eriksson M. Professor Aaron Antonovsky (1923–1994): the father of the salutogenesis. J Epidemiol Community Health 59:511. 2005.

7.         Fiorentino LM. Sense of coherence and the stress-illness relationship among employees: a prospective study. In: McCubbin HI, Thompson TE, Thompson AI, et al, eds. Stress, coping, and health in families. Sense of coherence and resiliency. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage: 91. 1998

8.         Cacioppo JT, Hawkley LC Social isolation and health, with an emphasis on underlying mechanisms.Perspect Biol; 46(3 Suppl):S39-52. Med. Summer 2003.

9.         Jonathan Day  Birmingham City University author: Robert Frank’s ‘The Americans’: The Art of Documentary Photography, ISBN 9781841503158.

10.       Katarzyna Marciniak  Ohio University Co-author (with Kamil turowski): Streets of Crocodiles, ISBN 9781841503653.

11.       Edward Ester. Et al Variability in visual working memory ability limits the efficiency of perceptual decision making. J Vis 14: 2. January 1, 2014.

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About Mark Cashley

Mark Cashley Chiropractor MSc Nutrition Fellow of the Royal College of Chiropractors has been in private practice for 30 years. He is President of both the Irish and Scottish Chiropractic associations and Gallery Founder. He may be contacted via markcashley@btinternet.com   www.tathagallery.com/

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