APPLIED ARTS contribute to our well-being

APPLIED ARTS contribute  to our well-being

says Jeff Sleeman (below)

My interest in the arts and participation in any sort of artistic activity has had a somewhat checkered history. At school, ‘art’ meant hours spent in a dusty upstairs classroom trying to produce a realistic two-dimensional representation of a bowl of fruit whilst being watched over and frequently criticized by an elderly teacher with little idea of how to inspire a fourteen year old boy.  Consequently, I dropped the subject as soon as possible and focused my academic efforts on science and maths, going on to study engineering at university.

Fast forward nearly half a century and having had a bit of a Road to Damascus conversion in midlife, I have been privileged to play a small part in helping others who have allowed their artistic endeavors to fall by the wayside whilst they pursue a largely scientific education.

photo 3 For the past few years as part of a diverse acting and performance -based work portfolio, I have been facilitating medical humanities courses at the University of Plymouth Medical School (left) in the UK. This part of the curriculum is aimed at trying to balance the scientific teaching of medicine with the artistic and humanitarian aspects of the discipline and helping students to deal with uncertainty, ambiguity and the idiosyncratic nature of the patients they will soon have to deal with.

As part of a course which I developed, students are encouraged to take time out from their normal studies to engage in artistic or creative activities, whether or not they believe they have any ability. Many, who at a younger age had participated in such pastimes – maybe playing a musical instrument, painting or sketching – report how much they enjoy reconnecting with their creativity which had gradually been displaced by scientific learning as they progressed though the educational system. Even those who consider themselves to have little talent in this regard, say how beneficial they find taking time out to use the more creative part of their brain for a change. Most find that, far from distracting from their ‘serious’ studies, making this change actually helps them to become more relaxed, efficient and focused.

Adjacent to the medical school is the campus of Derriford hospital, a large and uninspiring NHS facility in which one of my colleagues, formerly an emergency department consultant, is introducing artworks on the corridor and waiting room walls. Studies have shown that such relatively minor improvements can make a considerable impact on patient wellbeing as well as reducing the stress levels of staff and enhancing their working environment. Given such obvious benefits, it should be clear that on many levels art is ‘good for us’.

photo 4 arts on prescription Art therapy has long been recognised as an established means of treating people suffering from mental health issues but now the potential for art to help patients with less pronounced problems is also being tried. Known as ‘Social photo 4 photo 5 Prescribing’ or ‘Arts On Prescription’ this is an initiative where in appropriate cases, conventional drug-based solutions can be replaced with opportunities for patents to engage with the arts. This could mean participating in a life drawing class, joining a community choir, attending a creative writing workshop or playing in a ukulele band. Again, studies have shown this to be highly effective – as well as reducing the costs of prescription drugs it can lead to fewer repeat GP consultations and on occasions prevent the need for hospital admissions. It has been shown to be very successful in treating mild to moderate depression, anxiety and some recurring complex health conditions – a significant part of the workload for most GPs.

Given all the above benefits it seems obvious that the arts are a necessary and important part of life and should be encouraged as a means to stay happy and healthy. It’s likely that teaching of the subject has improved somewhat since my experiences in that dusty classroom all those years ago and I hope that, like the students I have been fortunate to teach, even those who choose a scientific or technical career will be motivated to maintain a positive and constructive relationship with the arts from now on.

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