Being able to explain art

Published in Features on 19 May 2014

One of the projects I'm involved with at the moment is focused on end of life care and understanding the skills that people have to offer and the skills that they can learn even as they approach the end of their lives.

Listening to one of the projects I was struck by how little I know or understand about different art forms. In particular, how knowing more about how and why people paint pictures in the way that they do can bring a whole new perspective to visiting an art gallery.

I mention this because I was struck by the story of a support worker who decided to do a short course in understanding portrait painting. Not because they thought they were ever going to be an amazing portrait painter, but because if they understood the process behind portrait painting they would be in a better position to sit with people they supported and look at and discuss the individual qualities of different painting styles. This providing a simple and relaxed way for someone even at the end of their life to take great pleasure from learning something new.

Engaging with the arts in this way might not seem an obvious part of somebody's end of life care  pathway. However, as was once said to me by a friend towards the end of their life – I'm still a person, I still have interests, desires and ambitions. Defining me by my life terminating condition isn't helpful.

Perhaps if I'd been able to enable my friend to gain a little more understanding behind the painting of portraits we could have both shared something new for a short period of time.