Art as a Determinant of Health

Dorothy A. Lander, John R. Graham-Pole

Author Abstract:


We define art-for-health as (a) art-based activity and/or experience of any kind
created/performed with healing intention; and/or, (b) art-based activity/experience for professional and popular education and social activism; and/or, (c) evidence of therapeutic and/or social benefit in quantitative and qualitative research.

Background & Rationale
The WHO’s list of the fundamental determinants of health does not specify art by name, and the CSDH stresses the deficit language of disease and social inequities. The 1986 Ottawa Charter for Health Promotion, however, calls health “a positive concept emphasizing social and personal resources, as well as physical capacities ... go[ing] beyond healthy life-styles to well-being.” Matarasso’s (1997) UK study on the health impact of the arts showed significant benefits for societal and individual health.

Findings from Current Study

  • We highlight the significance of art in global health promotion, education, research, activism, and therapy with curative and/or palliative intent.
  • We substantiate the global presence of arts activities/experience in healthcare and society at large. The evidence that we are hard-wired for art accounts for the universal, while paradoxical, slowness to declare art a cardinal health determinant.
  • This underlies global governmental failure to take far-reaching action to reflect the compelling evidence of art as a health determinant. We document systematically physical and psychological healing and health education and social activism. We use the qualitative methodology of exemplars to represent subjects’ and researchers’ testimony, because the quantitative methodology of evidence- based medicine is unsuited to assess the premises and practices of art-for-health.

Specific Recommendations

  • Implement far-reaching, multi-cultural, professional and popular education and research in health and educational settings and global communities
  • Motivate health professionals, educators, artists, and policy-makers to conduct funded local and national art-for-health projects
  • Activate a movement to name art a social determinant of health, endorsed by health professionals, educators, researchers, and policy makers
  • Distribute the findings of this report to those responsible for societal and individual health determinants
Resource/Research Type:
Resource Type: Report
Document Details:
Author: Dorothy A. Lander, John R. Graham-Pole
Publisher Details:
Publisher: National Collaborating Centre – Determinants of Health (NCC-DH)
Publisher City: Antigonish, Nova Scotia
Publisher Year: 2008
Publisher Month: 07
Audio/Video Details: