The arts and medicine: a challenging relationship

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Abstract

This paper discusses various justifications for including medical humanities and art in healthcare education. It expresses concern about portrayals of the humanities and art as benign and servile in relation to medicine and the health professions. An alternative is for the humanities to take a more active role within medical education by challenging the assumptions and myths of the predominant biomedical model. Another is to challenge quiescent notions of the arts by examining examples of recent provocative work and, to this end, the paper considers the work of performance artists Stelarc and Orlan who have subjected their bodies to modifications and extensions. Their work challenges, and potentially undermines, conceptions of the body, medicine, and humanity's relationship with technology. Similarly, other artists, working with biological cultures, have raised controversial issues. Recent work of this kind defies easy understanding and resists being pressed into the service of medicine and other health professions for educational purposes by opening up topics for exploration and discussion without providing unitary explanatory frameworks. The paper goes on to discuss the implications for medical education if this is the approach to the arts and humanities in healthcare education. It suggests that there needs to be a shift in the foundational assumptions of medicine if the arts and humanities are to contribute more fully.

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