Aesthetic Inquiry and the Art of Nursing

By Chinn, Peggy L. Rn, PhD, Faan; Maeve, M. Katherine Rn, PhD et al. | Scholarly Inquiry for Nursing Practice, January 1, 1997 | Go to article overview

Aesthetic Inquiry and the Art of Nursing


Chinn, Peggy L. Rn, PhD, Faan, Maeve, M. Katherine Rn, PhD, Bostick, Cynthia Rn, PhD, Scholarly Inquiry for Nursing Practice


This article describes the development of aesthetic inquiry and the emerging conceptualization of the art of nursing as an art form. Aesthetic knowing, which emerges from aesthetic inquiry, is described as connoisseurship of the art of nursing and includes appreciation of the art form and insight into meanings of the art. A method of aesthetic criticism is described that links artistic experience, history, form, alternate meanings, and future possibilities. The inquiry yielded two essential elements of the art of nursing, movement and narrative, which, when manifested as an art form have the capacity to shift experience into a different realm.

"The art of nursing" is a phrase that has been used extensively in nursing literature (Johnson, 1994, 1996). Its meanings and connotations remain unclear, however, including such disparate meanings as manual skills, technical expertise, rational application of the nursing process, moral conduct, intuition and grasping of the whole, meaningful interpersonal relationships, and a way of knowing in nursing (Carper, 1978; Chinn & Kramer, 1995; Johnson, 1994; Katims, 1993). The inquiry described here grew out of an intention to develop a method appropriate to the aesthetic pattern of knowing in nursing. In order to develop such a method, a clearer understanding of the phenomenon of "the art of nursing" was a central concern of this inquiry.

The purpose of this report is to describe the formally developed method for aesthetic inquiry and aesthetic knowing, building on the prior work of Chinn (1994). Here we extend that work to refine the method of inquiry, and to include a definition of the art of nursing, which specifies the mediums of nursing art: movement and narrative.

AESTHETIC KNOWING AND AESTHETIC INQUIRY

Aesthetic knowing differs from other patterns of knowing in a number of ways, many of which are not yet fully understood (Carper, 1978; Chinn & Kramer, 1995; Katims, 1993; Kim, 1993). It involves knowing that is deeply personal and intentionally intersubjective. It touches common depths of human experience not reached by other patterns of knowing. It is an important component of nursing as a discipline because of nursing's connections with deeply felt experiences of life (sickness, suffering, recovery, birth, death) that can often only be expressed in art form. As a component of nursing ontology and epistemology, aesthetic knowing requires methods of inquiry different from those of empirics (Chinn, 1994).

Aesthetic inquiry involves direct immersion in and observation of the art, reflections on and interpretation of that which is observed, integration of the interpretation with prior knowledge, and construction of criticism. Aesthetic inquiry requires a stance based on the following essential premises that arise from the nature and function of art.

* Aesthetic processes begin with the assumption of a common, generalizable human experience and seek to express unique and infinite creative possibilities for experiencing or responding to that human experience. While aesthetic processes are highly subjective, the artist must reach the depth of common human meaning to reveal a unique and creative expression that has significance for the culture. Rather than seeking generalizations, aesthetic inquiry seeks to reveal that which is unique in the expression as well as to reveal the underlying meanings that give the art its significance.

* In the arts, a single expression can convey many different meanings, and no one interpretation is more "true" than another. The fullest understanding comes from having a deep appreciation of, or sensitivity to, the fullest range of interpretations and meanings that are possible. To be plausible, interpretations must be empathetically comprehensible to other connoisseurs of the art. This is a critical premise that differentiates aesthetic inquiry from empirical (particularly qualitative) inquiry. From an aesthetic perspective, "reality" or "truth" resides within every act of art, and within every observer or critic. …

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