Insider's Guide to Spas
Tomo Nogi

Fundamentals

Why Louie Schwartzberg Makes Me Nervous

Stephen Kiesling


As you probably know, Louie Schwartzberg is a nature photographer who has moved into the spa world in a big way. His images are beautiful. Many of them spectacularly so. Schwartzberg allows us to see nature as we haven’t seen her before. Nature you can’t see any other way. It’s art. Beautiful art. I’ve even heard in spas that these photos are more than art: They’re healing! So why should that make me nervous?

When it comes to healing, I don’t think we can replace nature or even a window into nature with imagery—no matter how beautiful.

Because I don’t think photographs and videos are literally healing. One study I recall of patients in hospital rooms found that a window to the outside helps patients heal faster. But a nature video—even a beautiful video—healed no better than staring at a painting or even a blank wall. Schwartzberg’s art was not part of the study, but when it comes to healing, I don’t think we can replace nature or even a window into nature with imagery—no matter how beautiful.

I’m not going to argue with the cascading water of a spa wall or a forest of indoor plants. These are real in ways that imagery isn’t. And I’m not going to argue with art therapy or creating beautiful spaces with art. And I’m not even going to argue with hanging Schwartzberg’s photos or videos as fine art. That’s what they are. Just don’t confuse any imagery with a healing window into nature.

Stephen Kiesling

Stephen Kiesling

Stephen Kiesling is the editor in chief of Spirituality & Health magazine. He was the youngest member of the 1980 US Olympic Rowing Team and the oldest competitor at the 2008 Olympic Rowing Trials. A Scholar of the House in Philosophy at Yale, he was a founding editor of American Health and Spirituality & Health magazines. Stephen is the author of several books, including The Shell Game and The Nike Cross Training System, and has written for The New Yorker, Sports Illustrated, and Outside. He has been featured in The New York Times and The Boston Globe and has appeared on numerous television and radio shows, including Today and All Things Considered.

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