Artwork Featuring 'Hugs' and their Affect on our Wellbeing

From May 17th we were told that we were once again allowed to give our loved ones a hug ... albeit carefully - a “cautious cuddle”, as it has now been termed.*

This will have come as a great relief to many who have missed the comforting and stress relieving effect that a hug can have on us.

Studies have shown that hugging causes the release of a hormone called oxytocin, which can have a balancing effect on cortisol levels (the body's 'stress' hormone), leading to a reduction in anxiety and increased feeling of connection and trust.

Matthew J. Hertenstein's (Ph.D., University of California, Berkeley) research focuses on emotion and how touch is used in communication, and he describes oxytocin as “promoting feelings of devotion, trust and bonding”.

Knowing this, we can see just why so many of us have felt the loss from that lack of physical contact during these times of social distancing.

But what if we don't feel ready yet, or safe enough, to launch back into physical interaction? Does that mean we have to miss out of the beneficial effects on our well being? Maybe not ...

Humans are generally biased towards visual information, and a large part of our emotions are attached to processing what we see (from a survival sense – assessing our surrounding environment to determine potential risks).

Thankfully, this can mean that it is possible to feel good simply by looking at things that make us happy (think of all those days that were made a little bit better after scrolling through cute pictures of animals on social media!).

Even just looking at a photograph or painting of people hugging, therefore, could be enough to trigger those 'feel good' chemicals in our brain. We recognise the depictions in the images as being comforting, which can provide us with positive psychological reinforcement, increase sensations of social bonding and reduce stress levels.

The desire for human connection is something that has been reflected in artwork throughout history, so there are plenty of images out there to be admired and help boost our wellbeing.

1905 painting Fulfilment by Austrian Symbolist artist Gustav Klimt beautifully depicts a couple's clinch in his recognisable style – a golden, swirling patchwork of colours and elements - composed to symbolise the couple's physical and spiritual union.

Prominent French artist Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun created a self portrait of her and her daughter in 1789 (which can be found in the Musée du Louvre, Paris) – a joyful and tender embrace, created in a merging of Rococco colour palette and Neoclassical artistic style.

Contemporary artwork from Jenni Murphy and Sam Toft is available on our website - the perfect way to send a 'virtual' hug to someone and just enough to raise those oxytocin levels, reduce stress and increase your wellbeing.

Why not spend some time yourself admiring paintings like 'Last Hug of the Day' – a beautifully sentimental limited edition print showing Mr and Mrs Mustard enjoying the comfort of a cuddle with their beloved, created using a palette of earthy muted colours against a bright periwinkle background...

...or limited edition print 'Van Life' – a whimsical depiction of a couple in each others arms, enjoying a summers evening under the stars - in pastel shades offset with the rich colours of the great outdoors.


* It is important to remember that some people are more vulnerable to severe illness if they contract Covid-19, and we should all be selective and cautious about how we choose to share an embrace (if we choose to at all) - the virus loves a hug as much as we do!

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