Works of Art as a Pedagogical Tool: An Alternative Approach to Education

Article excerpt

Contemporary authors on nursing issues discuss the importance of expanding knowledge at all levels of nursing education to empower future nurses to respond in caring situations for the benefit of their patients. This article reviews several studies in which paintings, complemented by a pedagogical structure, allowed students to observe situations relevant to nursing. Results suggest that the use of visual art in nursing education can add a new dimension to students' experiences.

The studies described in this review focus on the use of paintings as a pedagogical tool developed from previous research about the use of art as a communication and healing tool with patients. Art has helped hospitalized children mirror their thoughts in words and/or in art objects (Wikström, 2005). Patients with irritable colon syndrome have been helped to cope with their symptoms (Cristina Grape, Theorell, Wikström, & Ekman, 2009).

Health professionals have used works of art to communicate with older patients (Wikström, 2003a). For older individuals, aesthetic forms of expression meant discovering and preserving possibilities for a meaningful life (Wikström, 2004). Dialogues generated by paintings had a positive impact on older individuals' perceptions of their life situation and social interaction, compared with a control group in which dialogues were about events of the day and the older individuals' hobbies and interests (Wikström, 2002b; Wikström, 2005). A survey of the living conditions of a random sample of Swedes aged 16-74 years showed that attending cultural events such as museum visits, art exhibitions, plays or concerts, reading books, and singing in a choir had a positive influence on survival rates (Bygren, Konlaan, & Johansson, 1996; Konlaan et al., 2000).

Nursing education must continually be examined and expanded in view of the fact that student nurses must be prepared for nursing practice that continually changes. Previous research in various aesthetic forms of expression suggests that these could be used to develop nursing skills (Breslin, 1996; Koithan, 1994; Wikström, 2002a). The present review aims to show by what means visual art could be used to complement teaching/learning programs.

REVIEW OF LITERATURE ON AESTHETICS IN NURSING EDUCATION

The use of literature, film, and music as teaching tools in nursing education was discussed by Mohr (1995) and by Chinn (1994) in their classical analysis of patterns of knowing that includes aesthetics in the art of nursing. The understanding of anguish, guilt, and choice are central to the discipline of nursing. These concepts are best understood with methods that involve more than detached observation or dispassionate description. Educational elements from the humanities, including reading selected literature, observing assigned films, and listening to particular musical pieces are useful pedagogical tools. Darbyshire (1994) discusses an educational approach to promoting aesthetics in nurse education, enabling nurses to gain a deeper understanding of the lived experience of suffering and chronic pain through engaging with the art of the Mexican painter Frida Kahlo. Blomqvist, Pitkälä, and Routasalo (2007) indicate various reasons and ways to use art as an interpreter of emotions. Simons and Hicks (2006) argue that the use of different art forms in teaching facilitates trust and expression of emotion.

According to Koithan (1996), incorporating aesthetic knowing into nursing education fosters caring and fluidity in practice. Bardes, Gillers, and Herman (2001) suggest visits to art museums as a way to build clinical skills in observation, description, and interpretation of visual information. Weir (2010) reports on a workshop at the Tate Gallery in London that explored the subject of violence. Participants reported that

. . . something happens. It may be that there is a transformation of attitude, even impacting on practice, or an appreciation that an art gallery offers a space that allows different kinds of thinking, or restores a sense of connecting with creative aspects of the self; and the creative side of the human brain. …