A Healthy Prognosis!

The Courtauld Institute of Art’s Regional Outreach collaboration with Access to Higher Education at East Kent College has moved into new territory. A workshop in Dover for Humanities students during October 2018 proved so positive amongst its participants that the college asked for more if possible. Would it be possible to pilot something similar for students aiming for degrees in Healthcare professions? The Courtauld learning team were delighted with the idea, and responded with suggestions for two sessions based on the use of art history to enhance observation and understanding among Nursing students. On 11 March Dover’s 40 Access to Healthcare students – aiming for degrees in every area of the subject – participated in A Picture of Health, two workshops of two sessions each.

The first session drew on recent American published research suggesting that art historical analysis can help Nursing students to improve accuracy in observational skills and descriptive precision when recording clinical conditions. To air this idea, the Courtauld Outreach team combined the findings of several research papers to deliver two lively facilitated workshops requiring considered visual analysis of a group of portraits (including van Gogh’s famous Self Portrait with Bandaged Ear of 1889) and speedy assessments of the merits of different hard-copy source material, from the largely speculative to the impeccably reputable.

College and Courtauld tutors were often surprised by the input and responses of both student groups during the two workshops, and especially by the practical work created in the closing, practical sessions. These were based on current research into the use of patients’ drawings to illustrate their understanding of their own clinical experience, and also as therapy. Students were asked to become the patients, to make an expressive drawing or diagram in 20 minutes to convey some aspect of their own health, past or present, that might aid a third party to more clearly understand their concerns or conditions. After some initial trepidation (“…but I can’t / don’t know what to draw…”), both groups responded with some fascinating, often very brave material, some of which had almost immediate and unsought therapeutic results for the authors. More on this in 2019-20…

Julian Freeman