The art of health

Andrea Charise is the program supervisor for the new minor in Health Humanities.

Students at U of T Scarborough can now consider a minor in Health Humanities, the first of its kind in Canada. This interdisciplinary field explores health, illness and disability through the arts and humanities. We spoke with Program Supervisor Andrea Charise, an assistant professor in Health Studies, to find out more.

What, exactly, is Health Humanities?
Health Humanities involves theoretical discussions of the representation of illness in the arts as well as more applied, hands-on practices. What attracts me to Health Humanities is how it asks researchers and educators to think about the relationship between the creative imagination of health and illness, and how those ideas get put to work in the “real world.”

Why does it matter?
Health Humanities allows us to think more clearly, critically, and creatively about the individual experience of health and illness. The arts and humanities are really good at helping us investigate and imagine ways into that complexity, which is often profoundly unique from person to person. Because the effects of health policy, or illness experiences, are often profoundly personal.

Why now?
Health Humanities has been around for about 40 years, mostly in medical schools, where the arts have been employed to enhance the teaching of clinical skills like compassion and empathy. But the relationship between arts and medicine is an ancient one. It’s only in the last 20 years or so that we’ve seen the growth of Health Humanities curriculum at the non-professional undergraduate level.