What does wellbeing look like?

British Safety Council has just launched a multimedia poster competition focused on wellbeing in the workplace and college. Images of wellbeing is looking for people with an interest in art and design to get involved. But what has art got to do with wellbeing?

There is a mindfulness technique which asks you to look closely at an object and notice that in looking your awareness undergoes subtle changes. The idea is that by becoming more aware of what is in front of you, worried or anxious thoughts – hostage to events in the past or racing ahead towards the future – will gain some space to relax, become more focused on the present and loosen any negative associations. Generally, such visualization techniques can boost your sense of wellbeing

The more visually interesting the object, the more the observing mind has to work on. Whether it’s shape, texture, tone or colour, an object can be a great spur to both concentration and mental absorption. Natural objects like trees or rivers offer a huge variety of visual stimuli to encourage such thinking. Of course for most of us at most times, such contemplation in the presence of nature is not on offer.

We beaver away at desks with minimal natural light, sitting for extended periods and surrounded by chunks of plastic and wires, marooned in a sea of discarded post-it notes, hectoring voices and the incessant tapping of keyboards. Not an environment to really make you feel good (which is what wellbeing mostly boils down to). 

A poster promotes the benefits of healthy living as a carrot refuses a cigarette. Image: British Safety Council poster archives

But what applies to an object can also apply to an image. A piece of design or art – with the added potential of text – can use the attributes of an object to give the mind a welcome workout. Whether it’s the former’s more illustrative intentions or the latter’s tendency towards ambiguity (and working through ambiguities in meaning are for many the source of reconnecting to the present), images offer loads of potential for enhancing wellbeing. And it hangs on your wall. 

This ‘restorative’ power of images has been recognized by Government. The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Arts, Health and Wellbeing was formed in 2014 and aims to improve awareness of the benefits that the arts can bring to health and wellbeing. Their report shows that engagement in art helps overcome anxiety, depression and stress at work and for those struggling with mental health, art can provide an effective non-verbal means of accessing painful memories.

Another campaign, Paintings in Hospitals, starts from the premise that ‘our surroundings have an impact on the way we think and feel. Art can transform cold, clinical environments into welcoming public spaces that encourage, enrich and empower everyone who uses them.’

The evidence seems pretty clear. But who is going to want to produce old fashioned posters of the type British Safety Council produced in the 1970s and 80s? In fact Images of wellbeing is looking for moving image posters as well, which adds a fascinating new dimension to the potential of images to enhance wellbeing. 

With movement we can start exploring images as they reveal over time, the poster can play with narrative and tap into story-telling techniques such as building tension, the slow reveal of information, the use of point of view, shifts in tone – all adding up to make an image memorable. 

Our desire for a positive sense of wellbeing might be as old as the hills. Let’s see what modern technology can do to encourage it. 

To enter or find out more about the competition visit: www.britsafe.org/campaigns-policy/competition-images-of-wellbeing