Defining arts in health

What is arts in health?

Despite ancient historical roots and global activity, a standardized definition of arts in health still does not exist. Influential proposals of definitions include ‘creative activities that aim to improve individual or community health using arts-based approaches, and that seek to enhance healthcare delivery through provision of artworks or performances’(1) and ‘a range of arts practices occurring primarily in healthcare settings, which brings together the skills and priorities of both arts and health professionals’.^) However, no single definition has become standard. Indeed, the exact name of the field is itself unclear. Some refer to ‘arts and health’, intended to signify the bringing together of two worlds, giving equal weighting to both. Others prefer ‘arts in health, seeing it not as the complete alignment of two fields, but rather the use of the arts as a way of supporting individual health or healthcare systems. Others still refer to ‘arts for health, implying more of an advocacy role. Whichever term is used, the core ingredients of the combining of arts and health remain the same. Nevertheless, arriving at a more specific definition than this can be rather challenging, in part because one of the defining features of the field of arts in health is its variety.

Arts in health activity encompasses a broad range of art forms, from visual arts such as paintings and photography, to crafts and sculpture, to performance art and theatre, to all genres of dance and music, whether watched or performed, to design elements including architecture, to film, new media, and technology. In addition, every major health condition has at one point or another been brought into the mix, whether physical health conditions or mental health conditions; acute or chronic; inherited or acquired. Even the target participants of arts in health activity vary enormously, from people at risk, to those with the condition and those who have recovered; encompassing not only patients but also relatives, friends, and healthcare staff; focusing both on individuals and on entire communities and nations; taking place across both high and low income countries; and cutting through different populations within society. Given this diversity, a number of people have tried to categorize arts in health into different subfields.

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