In this paper some of the intriguing links between the arts and medicine are explored. As a starting point I consider the notion of whole person understanding as articulated by Downie in an article entitled “Literature and medicine”, published in the Journal of Medical Ethics in 1991.1 I suggest that the arts can contribute to whole person understanding in at least three ways. The arts may stimulate: (a) insight into common patterns of response (shared human experiences); (b) insight into individual difference or uniqueness, and (c) enrichment of the language and thought of the practitioner.
Much literature which explores the relationship between the arts and medicine tends to focus on the value of the arts in increasing our understanding of the particular individual, “whole person understanding” in Downie's sense of the word. This, however, assumes that “whole person understanding” should focus only on the unique in the individual. This view is, I think, mistaken. If we take the notion of “whole person” seriously then we must recognise that which is unique but also that which humans may share. I suggest that this broader view is of the greatest importance in any consideration of the relationship between the arts and medicine.
- humane practice
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P Anne Scott, RGN, BA(Hons), MSc, PhD, is Senior Lecturer, Department of Nursing and Midwifery, University of Stirling, Stirling FK9 4LA.
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