Episode 35. Art in Medicine: Giving Voice to Patients & Sight to Doctors

During the pandemic, we got super into paint-by-numbers. They were just so soothing and an easy way to create while taking our mind off the crazy world around us. It was a way to be calm and focused. And a lot of people use art in this way, to figure out your emotions or as an outlet. But what about using art in medicine? Patient’s often create art that depicts their disease and experience living with an illness. You can also use art in therapy, to build confidence, decrease depression, and manage diseases from cancer to bipolar disorder to ADHD. Healthcare providers can even use art to learn to be better providers through creative critical thinking skills and observation. Art in medicine is a growing field as professionals begin to recognize the immense benefits it has on people of all shapes and forms. So join us this week to learn more about the field and how art may benefit you!

Feminist Corner:

What does art mean to you?

Listen to the episode, discuss these questions with friends and family, let us know what you think!

Show Notes:

In this episode we are talking about art in medicine! From art history to art therapy to art in healthcare education, we are covering all the bases. 

Within art history, there are three paintings/artists that bring health and art together. 

  • Vincent Van Gogh is well known for cutting off his ear and his yellow tones in painting. He also struggled greatly with manic depression and after being in and out of the hospital, admitted himself to an asylum. In the asuslm is where Van Gogh created some of his greatest art, such as Starry Night. 
  • Edvund Munch struggled with anxiety and hallucinations for much of his life. These struggles manifested in one of his most famous paintings: The Scream. Today, this painting represents much of modern anxiety and the feeling of just wanting to let all of your emotions out. 
  • Frida Kahlo was a Mexican artist who for much of her life struggled with her health, and more specifically her fertility. So when she experienced a miscarriage and abortion while livign in Detroit, Michigan, she feel into a deep depression while in the hospital. She goes on to depict these intense feelings of loss in her painting: Henry Ford Hospital. 

Throughout history all these artists, and many more, used art as an avenue to expressing their emotions about illness. So it is not surprising that today, Art Therapy is a growing field in medicine. Art therapists are trained in psychology, human development, and counseling methodology which are intertwined with art. Studies have shown that art therapy is beneficial to mental illnesses such as anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorder but it’s also helpful for heart disease, cancer, and chronic disease patients. Art therapy gives patients the ability to express feelings that maybe cannot be said in words, or discover feelings they did not realize they had.

But art is not only beneficial to patients. It is now being incorporated into medical school curriculum and hospital team building programs. By teaching providers how to analyze art, it can open their mind to observational and critical thinking skills they could not access before. These programs have shown to allow providers to better care for their patients through empathy and better clinical exam skills.


6 famous artists who struggled with mental illness. 1000Museums. (2021, June 1). Retrieved March 3, 2022, from https://www.1000museums.com/famous-artists-with-depression/

Dobkin, P. L. (2020). Art of medicine, art as medicine, and art for medical education. Canadian Medical Education Journal. https://doi.org/10.36834/cmej.70298

Frida Kahlo Biography. Frida Kahlo biography. (n.d.). Retrieved March 3, 2022, from https://www.fridakahlo.org/frida-kahlo-biography.jsp

Hilarie. (2016, October 25). How an aesthete’s eye can help a doctor’s hand. The New York Times. Retrieved March 3, 2022, from https://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/30/arts/design/how-an-aesthetes-eye-can-help-a-doctors-hand.html?smprod=nytcore-ipho

How fine art can help doctors see past their clinical biases. California Health Care Foundation. (2021, December 22). Retrieved March 3, 2022, from https://www.chcf.org/blog/how-fine-art-can-help-doctors-see-past-their-clinical-biases/

Mental health art history: 5 artworks depicting asylums. Sartle. (2019, July 1). Retrieved March 3, 2022, from https://www.sartle.com/blog/post/mental-health-art-history-5-artworks-depicting-asylums

Team, G. T. E. (n.d.). Art therapy. GoodTherapy. Retrieved March 3, 2022, from https://www.goodtherapy.org/learn-about-therapy/types/art-therapy

Vincent’s illness and the healing power of art. Van Gogh Museum. (n.d.). Retrieved March 3, 2022, from https://www.vangoghmuseum.nl/en/art-and-stories/stories/vincents-illness-and-the-healing-power-of-artVTS. Arts Practica. (n.d.). Retrieved March 3, 2022, from http://www.artspractica.com/vts/

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