What I learned from ‘The Experience of Illness: Learning from the Arts – a Symposium’ at University College Cork, 2012.

January 4, 2013 § 2 Comments


Roundtable Discussion

The reductionist methods of science, so well taught to physicians, need to be linked with an imaginative investigation of our patients’ experience.– David H Alpers

Without exception, everyone’s lives are somehow or other effected by illness. It is a pressing concern to develop understanding of, and therefore empathy for the ill, which leads to better care. Empathy involves being able to put oneself in another’s shoes and to actively imagine their experience. To do so we must understand the experience in detail. However, the ill have greatly reduced verbal capacities and verbal language cannot fully describe pain and experience. So communication methods must go beyond words to better describe experience.

The Experience of Illness: Learning from the Arts was an international symposium held at University College Cork, Ireland on November 30th and December 1st, 2012. It was organised by the APC (Alimentary Pharmabiotic Centre) and the Glucksman Gallery. There is also an ongoing art exhibition Living / Loss: The Experience of Illness in Art at the Glucksman which continues through to March 10th, 2013. It’s definitely worth checking out.

The aim of this symposium was to explore how arts and humanities can contribute to medical practice and education, leading to better care for patients. As the flier said: “Kindness, compassion and concern for the dignity of those who suffer do not come naturally and need fostering. This is best achieved with some understanding of the human experience of illness.” The event was open to all “who care about the human experience of illness”.

There will be a set of blogposts to follow here that will ask these questions:–

  • What experiences of illness were described?
  • How is illness experience communicated by art?
  • How do arts and humanities contribute to medical practice and education?
What specific methods were outlined over the course of the symposium?

This is by no means a full report of the symposium, as it will not review all the speakers. It will be a categorically arranged response to the four questions that interest me. My background is in design and communication, and as such, to write a series of posts is the most ambitious endeavour for this weblog so far.

By the end of this set of posts, I would like to have touched on how this particular symposium explored the relationships between arts, communication, culture, medicine, and cognitive and affective imagination.

Your views are very welcome as it would be useful to broaden the response and dialogue.


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§ 2 Responses to What I learned from ‘The Experience of Illness: Learning from the Arts – a Symposium’ at University College Cork, 2012.

  • Josie says:

    Intriguing. I was thinking about this a little last term while reading Christopher Hitchens on his experience. It doesn’t really occur to the healthy body to investigate this. Looking forward to reading more.


    • Orlagh says:

      So true. In fact, it was mentioned by David ALpers that it’s an impossibility to imagine another’s illness, yet the imperative is to try.


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