Out Of Our Heads is a project by students and staff of University of Bristol Medical school to showcase creative work. It is often said that medicine is both Art and Science. In the modern medical curriculum there is a goodly amount of science. But what about the Art? What is it, is it important and should it be part of the curriculum?
We interpret the concept of the 'Art of Medicine' in two distinct ways. What people generally mean by the phrase is the aspect of medicine that involves the human touch. Going the extra mile, wisely interpreting the concerns and fears of the patient, treating folk kindly and non-judgementally, imagining what it is like to be on the wrong side of the desk.
The other interpretation is literally the Art of Medicine, that is the fine arts of literature, painting, music, sculpture, dance, applied to medical themes. It is a matter of fact that the themes that cluster round health and disease (death, loss, salvation, fate, serendipity, choice) are also those that preoccupy artists. So there is a real wealth of fine art that can inform us about the human response to disease. A scholarly approach to these issues is taken within our intercalated BA in Medical Humanities.
But, perhaps uniquely, at Bristol, we believe that the best way to harness the Arts in medicine is to engage personally with medical themes through creative work. An artistic approach gets us to focus on the individuality of the situation, whereas in most of the course the focus is on the generic. It also, often, involves strong emotional responses in a culture were the intellect is most prized. Encountering and learning from (sometimes difficult) emotional responses is the high road to emotional intelligence. 'Use your EQ not just your IQ' as one rapping contributor notes.
With these ideas in mind we have three opportunities during the curriculum to submit creative work as formally assessed elements of the core curriculum. As far as we know we are the only medical school in the UK and possibly the world to have such requirements. The work is assessed not for its artist merit but for its authenticity. The results are here to see, read and hear. Where you look at a work and think the art perhaps a little naïve, go to the 'reflection' and see the, often poignant, predicament that prompted it.
The design of the website has emerged over an 18 month period through the collaboration of students, staff and an artist (see acknowledgements). The structure quite literally grew out of the student work. We allowed the themes in the work to guide the categories in which pieces were eventually placed. For instance students in Year 1 of the course frequently did work reflecting on things back home so we have a major category of “Home Front”. For the graphic design we went to medical archives in the Bristol Medical Library and chose images dating back to the 17th century.
The site can be accessed in various ways. If you are looking for work by yourself or a friend or on a theme then use the search facility. Otherwise just browse and see where it takes you. Many of the works come with “reflections” and these are sometimes more salient than the works themselves and certainly add a lot to their appreciation. Artists will really value your comments. Note these are moderated and will not come up immediately. A couple of navigational tips: if you double click on an image it will expand to its full scanned size; if you mouse over on one of the “quill” images a small box describing the written work will appear.
Finally we hope that at least 50 new works will be added to the site every year from the Year 1 GP attachment, WPC Element, Year 2 Creative Arts SSC, iBAMH degree cohort and Year 4 WPC mini-SSC. This will happen "automatically" but we have a system for the submission of artwork that has nothing to do with any courses - see the "submit your art" section. This might be medically themed art or something for the "unplugged" section. Reciprocally, though we think we have contacted all the student whose work appears here, let us know if you would like any work on the site removed (or altered).
Creative work occupies a very small but rather famous (or possibly infamous) niche in the Bristol curriculum. We hope that this site will help you understand what all the fuss is about. Enjoy!Trevor Thompson