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Portrait of a process: arts-based research in a head and neck cancer clinic


The role of art in medicine is complex, varied and uncertain. To examine one aspect of the relationship between art and medicine, investigators analysed the interactions between a professional artist and five adult patients with head and neck cancer as they cocreated portraits in a clinical setting. The artist and four members of an interdisciplinary team analysed the portraits as well as journal entries, transcripts of portrait sessions and semistructured interviews. Over the course of 5 months, 24 artworks evolved from sittings that allowed both the patients and the artist to collaborate around stories of illness, suffering and recovery. Using narrative inquiry and qualitative arts-based research techniques five emergent themes were identified: embracing uncertainties; developing trusting relationships; engaging in reflective practices; creating shared stories; and empowerment. Similar themes are found in successful physician–patient relationships. This paper will discuss these findings and potential implications for healthcare and medical education.

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