Many of us will have experienced art that soothes or excites us, moves us to tears or even disgusts us. But have you thought about the other ways in which art might affect us? 

It’s no secret that in advertising, colour is used strategically. Red is thought to excite us, so is used to draw our attention to sales, while blue is seen to represent trust and a sense of calm and is often used by banks and businesses. Green may be associated with envy or wealth, but is also associated with healing, so is often used in settings where the goal is to feel refreshed and rejuvenated. 

But what about Baker Miller Pink (also known as Drunk Tank Pink)? Scientists say that this colour can calm people and being in its presence for just fifteen minutes could be enough to prevent angry and aggressive behaviour. It was used in a prison where violence levels dropped as a result, but it was decided that it should be used sparingly in youth offending centres, where the inmates were more likely to become sluggish. A later study by Alexander Schauss showed that while the colour had a positive effect on some prisoners, it did quite the opposite at another facility. Some researchers believe that this was the result of a response to the femininity of the colour pink.  

We can delve even further into our reactions to some pieces of art by thinking about composition and pattern. Take fractals, for example. Fractals are patterns that are repeated in increasingly fine magnification. They appear everywhere in nature, in trees, coastlines and even in ourselves: our veins, nervous system and even our bronchial trees are fractal.  

Richard Taylor, a University of Oregon physicist and leading researcher on fractals says that ‘Nature has chosen fractals to be its basic building block.’  

Taylor has carried out several studies on the effect of fractals on stress. Using EEG tests and MRI scans he found that stress levels decrease by 60% just by looking at fractals, scenes from nature and… Jackson Pollock paintings! They all lowered stress in a similar way, even artificial, computer-generated fractals. It’s all about the repeating patterns. 

Humans evolved looking at fractals in nature, so we process this information very quickly and because it isn’t visually demanding, it essentially puts us in a relaxed state. Since we now spend far too much time in artificial, built environments, Taylor is now working on getting fractals on solar panels and new buildings to try to weave them into urban life and lowering stress levels of passers-by as a result.  

Experiment for yourself and see how you feel before and after spending 20 minutes a day in a fractal rich environment for a week. This could be time spent cloud watching, forest bathing or…you’ve guessed it, in an art gallery.