I have something of a blog backlog of posts about events I've been to lately: Patients First, New Light on Ancient Medicine, the Brighton LibTeachMeet, of course, the CILIP Sussex AGM... As time passes, my notes make less and less sense. So the sensible thing to do is to begin with those I remember best.
Yesterday, as part of the Brighton Festival Fringe, and in conjunction with their exhibition of medical students' art, Brighton and Sussex Medical School, there was a symposium on Art and Medicine. I am neither artist nor doctor, but I worked at BSMS from 2003 to 2006, possibly the most enjoyable job of my career, so I went along.
Professor Helen Smith opened the symposium with a keynote speech on the relationship between art and medicine at the theoretical level, and at BSMS. She identified ways in which art might be used in medicine:
- didactically, as in medical illustrations for teaching
- the portrayal of doctors and of medicine
- as therapy
- as an activity of doctors themselves (she illustrated this point with Roy Calne's work)
- as a stimulus to public engagement with medicine
- as a part of medical education
- art by patients, for example those with long-term illnesses
Art and design can be used in clinical settings to aid and speed recovery. She had found more than 600 articles claiming to show beneficial effects of art and design. As Osler argued understanding of art can heighten the physician's observational skills.
BSMS developed a Student Selected Component (SSC) in the third year, Learning to Look. Short-sightedly, in the 2009 version of Tomorrow's Doctors, the General Medical Council, who regulate medical education as well as the conduct of doctors, have decreed that SSCs should no longer form so large a part of the curriculum. Inter-disciplinary work offers new perspectives, communication between disciplines, cooperation, and overcoming of territoriality. Sometimes other members of other disciplines can be nervous, for example, there can be resistance to what is perceived as doctors teaching English literature.
Then Anna Dumitriu, who mentioned a bewildering array of partnerships and collaborations in which she was involved, chaired a panel on Creative Communication: Art and Medicine. Three students who had worked with Anna came forward, Lucy McCabe to tell us of her work with the Pathogenic Patisserie, Simon Hall, told us how he had been a portrait artist before he became a medical student, and James talked about how art could be a way of saying things that can't be communicated in other ways.
The next part of the symposium was led by Dr Inam Haq, who spoke on Art and Medicine: Strangers or Bedfellows. I was interested when he discussed attempts to find literature supporting the thesis that practicing the visual arts improves observational skills, He could find only two papers, Shapiro 2006 and Ousager 2010, which I think must be these:
He suggested that, to be able to articulate the benefits of the arts, we need new paradigms of collecting evidence.
Tom Ainsworth talked about working with mixed groups of students to look at the application of biomechanical data to chair design, and design in the clinical environment, using the Royal Sussex County Hospital as an example.
In what was the most unusual part of the afternoon, the next speaker, Patrick Letscha, discussed the use of life drawing. He set us up into pairs and made us draw each other's eyes, once blind, that is forbidden to look at the paper while drawing, and then more conventionally. The illustration shows my eyes, as drawn by my neighbour Sue. He urged us not to be inhibited by beliefs that we couldn't draw or lacked craftsmanship. He showed us pictures from Werner Herzog's Cave of Forgotten Dreams: are these cave paintings observational, imaginative or religious? Then Philippa Lyon spoke about learning through looking.
In the final session, on the Laboratory Life project, part of the Brighton Science Festival, five artists worked on five projects with sixteen partners over nine days to prepare something to show at the festival. Hellen Bullard spoke about Tattoo Traits, in which they tattooed all sorts of invertebrates with a glop made up of hybrid DNA. She came up with a Creative Commons licence for the material they created I'd never heard of before, a Creative Commons NonAttribution, Non-Commercial, Share-Alike Intellectual Property Explicit Model Release Submissive Human Research Participant License, or CCNANCSAIPEMRSHRPL for short). Rosie Sedgwick spoke about Infective Textiles, a project where they took a Regency dress and stained it with bacterial pigments and antibiotics, and Kate Genevieve, an animator, talked about the Public Misunderstanding of Science.