Online Art Viewing Can Improve Well-Being

Summary: Visiting online galleries not only allows for a greater opportunity for art to be seen by the public, it also helps improve mood, reduces anxiety, and provides a greater sense of well-being.

Source: University of Vienna

Viewing art while visiting galleries and museums can have powerful effects on an individual’s mood, stress and well-being. But does the same hold true for viewing art in digital space?

A new study by psychologists led by MacKenzie Trupp, and Matthew Pelowski investigated whether engaging with art online also has this effect.

Their conclusion: a short three-minute visit to an online art or cultural exhibition also shows significant positive effects on subjective well-being.

In the first wave of the COVID 19 pandemic, arts and cultural institutions quickly shifted from stationary buildings to the Internet. For the first time, digital museums and online art galleries became the focus of public attention.

This had two effects: First, art and cultural objects could be accessed from the sofas of citizens around the globe. Second, art had the opportunity to reach a much wider audience than before.

Over the past decade, scholars have conducted numerous research studies demonstrating that art can have a positive impact on health and well-being. However, it was unknown whether these effects could also be felt over the Internet.

In a new study published in Frontiers in Psychology, MacKenzie Trupp, Ph.D., Matthew Pelowski of the Arts and Research on Transformation of Individuals and Society research group, and their colleagues from the Department of Psychology and the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics asked participants to visit art exhibitions accessible via smartphones, tablets, and computers.

Before and after the visit, psychological state and well-being were measured to determine the extent to which viewing the art might be beneficial.

Results showed that even very brief viewings can have significant effects, leading to lower negative mood, anxiety, and loneliness, as well as higher subjective well-being. These results were comparable to other interventions such as nature experiences and visits to physical art galleries.

This shows a wall of portraits
Second, art had the opportunity to reach a much wider audience than before. Image is in the public domain

Upon further investigation, the personal subjective experiences of individuals became an important aspect to consider. The research team discovered that the more meaningful or beautiful people found the art to be and the more positive feelings they had while viewing it, the greater the benefit.

These results demonstrate that brief online art viewing can improve and support well-being. In addition, this study emphasizes art interventions-a recommendation that can be implemented on-site or made specific to individual viewers.

This opens new avenues for further research and applications in spaces such as waiting rooms, hospitals, and rural areas where access to art is limited.

About this art and well-being research news

Author: Press Office
Source: University of Vienna
Contact: Press Office – University of Vienna
Image: The image is in the public domain

Original Research: Open access.
Can a Brief Interaction With Online, Digital Art Improve Wellbeing? A Comparative Study of the Impact of Online Art and Culture Presentations on Mood, State-Anxiety, Subjective Wellbeing, and Loneliness” by MacKenzie D. Trupp et al. Frontiers in Psychology


Can a Brief Interaction With Online, Digital Art Improve Wellbeing? A Comparative Study of the Impact of Online Art and Culture Presentations on Mood, State-Anxiety, Subjective Wellbeing, and Loneliness

When experienced in-person, engagement with art has been associated—in a growing body of evidence—with positive outcomes in wellbeing and mental health. This represents an exciting new field for psychology, curation, and health interventions, suggesting a widely-accessible, cost-effective, and non-pharmaceutical means of regulating factors such as mood or anxiety.

However, can similar impacts be found with online presentations? If so, this would open up positive outcomes to an even-wider population—a trend accelerating due to the current COVID-19 pandemic. Despite its promise, this question, and the underlying mechanisms of art interventions and impacts, has largely not been explored.

Participants (N = 84) were asked to engage with one of two online exhibitions from Google Arts and Culture (a Monet painting or a similarly-formatted display of Japanese culinary traditions).

With just 1–2 min exposure, both improved negative mood, state-anxiety, loneliness, and wellbeing. Stepdown analysis suggested the changes can be explained primarily via negative mood, while improvements in mood correlated with aesthetic appraisals and cognitive-emotional experience of the exhibition.

However, no difference was found between exhibitions. We discuss the findings in terms of applications and targets for future research.

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