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The difficulties encountered by McNaughton and Evans in addressing the question ‘Why pay attention to the artist?’ are those created by disciplinary boundaries and a useful answer is unlikely without stepping outside the academic discipline.1 It is in the nature of academic disciplines to parcel up life. Each then uses its ‘discursive, reflective and primarily cognitive’ faculties to wrap and unwrap the parcel and pass it around at conferences! However, the content and wrappings, so well known in one discipline, might be puzzling to another. For instance, within the same world of health and suffering, Medical Humanities sees the artist and clinician as different people, whereas in Narrative Medicine (so near and yet so far) they are the same. In the former, the artist does art (or at least their art is used) in a medical setting, and in the latter, the artist within the practitioner co-creates the work with a patient. Or so it seems.
As a practising NHS general practitioner and researcher, aspiring writer of stage plays, and husband of a painter, I offer my view from elsewhere. For me, the creative process involved in writing drama is closely similar to that in the consultation, especially when the play is written for a particular creative production team (including the binning of the offering if they don’t like it!). There is the same close attention to language and context, the same weaving of story, the same collective search for meaning that might help someone, anyone, to move on – including myself. In this, I am with the narrative folk. I see my role as the artist. The science and technology I use in the consultation is to further the art of medicine that I try to practise – just as some of my writer friends use science and technology in their multimedia projects.
So why pay attention to the artist? Because the artist and clinician are one and the same, varying only in the extent of their use of artistic insights and practices. In fact, as John Ruskin insisted, we are all artists – even academics! All we need is inspiration. Show us what is possible! Be a marriage broker between medicine, and the arts and humanities. Help us to really understand what Wassily Kandinsky meant when he wrote of the artist at a spiritual level: ‘He sees and points the way.’2
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