Nursing and the Arts

Introduction to a Collection of Nursing and the Arts Columns*

by Jeanine Young-Mason

The idea of a regular column based upon the correspondences between the practice of nursing and the expressive and performing arts arose from my research on suffering and compassion.  The essential link between nursing and the arts lies is the fact that both are concerned with the human condition and have a profound appreciation of the suffering of others ( moral, spiritual, psychological, and physical ).  In fact, the arts inform and enrich the art of nursing practice in a way that textbooks and  specialized studies cannot.  The knowledge that the arts can teach us what text books cannot is a revelation that still surprises some.  It is my expressed hope that readers will discover through these explorations and others the power of the arts to heal – through entertainment, and laughter, illumination and wisdom.  The expressive and performing arts considered in my columns include drawing, painting, sculpture, cinematic art, selected documentary films, literature (poetry, novels, narrative history history, drama (ancient and contemporary), personal and formal essays, narratives of patients, caregivers, and healthcare professionals, myths, legends and folklore, and the performing arts of dance, music ( vocal and instrumental), dramatic performances, culinary arts of the world’s cultures, and nature itself.

The following essays were chosen from the larger collection of columns that I have authored over the past 25 years, in part, to persuade readers of the importance of art and literature to nursing education and practice.  Others were chosen because they immediately and directly affect positively the health and healing of individuals with certain chronic conditions.  Students and practitioners from the Brazil, Columbia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Portugal and the United States have corresponded with me regarding those articles which describe the influence of art to improve the lives of those with chronic conditions.

It seemed to me back in1991 when I wrote that first column (and still does today) that the crucial questions remain the same: How do nurses continue to evolve their understanding of the human condition, their aesthetic perceptions and their appreciation of the fleeting intangibles of human existence which may seem insignificant compared to the scientific data they are accustomed to relying upon?

This collection of essays reveal the power of dance to enrich the lives of people living with Parkinson’s Disease; the power of art and music to transform the lives of people living with dementia; the power of cinematic art to illustrate the serious consequences of moral mediocrity; the power of Rodin’s sculpture to instruct and guide us in perceiving visual clues to emotional states; and the power of Melville’s Bartleby to help us comprehend the elusiveness of the human will.

In all of these essays there is a central truth that Rodin, in particular, teaches us which he called “fugitive truth.”  It is his aesthetic grasp of the state of soul at the moment of execution of a drawing or sculpture.

“Character is the essential truth of any natural object, whether ugly or beautiful; it is even what one might call a double truth; it is the soul, the feelings, the idea expressed by the features of the face, the gestures and actions of a human being, by the colors of the sky, the line of the horizon.”                 Auguste Rodin

*Nursing and the Arts columns are published in Clinical Nurse Specialist: International Journal for Advanced Nursing Practice

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