Arts in Healthcare

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The Passage Quilt  (detail)

Crafted by Elizabeth Garlington © 2003

Permanent Collection

Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Nashville, TN

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Creativity should not be “optional” in medicine. It allows us to solve clinical problems in new ways, helps us pull together disparate ideas and sustains us in the face of uncertainty. True healers have always used images, music, art, and poems to help find the way. Little by little, these and many other creative tools are finding their way back into our bags.

                                                                                                                                                                         Allan Peterkin, MD University of Texas

Medicine has always had difficulty in defining its terrain, situated somewhere between the sciences and the humanities. The recent trend has been to accentuate its scientific underpinnings: detachment and objectivity in search for universal truths about disease. While this approach has yielded impressive diagnostic and therapeutic dividends, it has often exacerbated the suffering of patients by further alienating and isolating them. The arts serve as powerful corrective to this trend, emphasizing the complexity of human experience and the needs of sick people over and above surgery and chemotherapy. The arts help remind medicine of its humanistic origins in healing as it seeks to provide the most up-to-date scientific care for its patients.                                                                          

                                                                                                                                                                            David Biro, MD, SUNY Health Science Center 

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The Healing Quilt

New Hanover Regional Medical Center Wilmington, NC

The dramatic visual imagery presented to a patient post-operatively provided her a sense of joy in the midst of continual medical care. Art neutralizes the clinicity of the hospital environment.

Fabric as Prayer: Quilted Cloth No. 1

A Series of Six Healing Art Quilts

Elizabeth Garlington © 2001

Artist Statement 

Quilted Cloth: A Prayer for Healing

My works of art are healing narratives crafted in the feminine voice that commemorate the passages and sacraments of birth, life, and death. I offer my art as a means of ministry and to serve my community as a healing artist—a reminder of the power of images to transform, provoke, and heal—piece by peace and stitch by stitch. My work as an artist offers the experience of beauty to those experiencing fear, loss, and uncertainty. Like a quilt, the process of grief and adjusting to loss are wrought with many layers, pieces, and sometimes, threads of joy. People approach the issue of prayer and healing with a variety of attitudes and beliefs—usually because what leads one to pray or to hope for healing involves some type of loss. In pain and loss, people seek transformation. My exposure to the many attitudes about grief, dying, and death has informed and solidified my personal theology and spirituality—and affirmed my call to continue and expand my work as a clinician in the healing arts. I have spent many long hours as a clinician in hospitals. In the CCU, ICU, public waiting rooms, and hallways of the healthcare system, there exists a collective anguish and culpability in response to illness and death—and hope. Complex combinations of factors lead to the behaviors and illnesses that bring patients into the realm of medical, psychological, and spiritual interventions. In response to my own darkness and grief about my father’s end of life illness and subsequent death, I believe the terms prayer and healing are one and the same as they both represent the process and act of transformation that lead those in need to a state of renewal and grace.

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