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This semester the McMaster Museum of Art is infusing art and healthcare onto the same canvas. On display until March 26, Picturing Wellness is a two-part exhibition that concentrates on using a health-humanities perspective as a guide in understanding resilience through treatment, care and social action.

The first segment, Picturing Wellness I: From Adversity to Resilience, is currently on display at the museum. Coordinated by Christine Wekerle, Associate Professor of Paediatrics at McMaster, the didactic exhibition examines how visual literacy can be used by health professionals to develop their observational and empathetic skills.

The exhibition developed out of two collaborative courses at McMaster, offered by the Faculty of Health Sciences: “Engaging and Educating in Child Maltreatment” and “The Art of Seeing.”

“We really wanted to have that opportunity to engage the student community in what really is social action,” said Wekerle.

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The scientific basis of healthcare is often thought of as being strictly separate from the arts. Yet, as Wekerle hopes to demonstrate with the exhibit, there is considerable overlap between the two fields. “Both in [visual] arts and in sciences, we rely on systematic observation, natural experiment, and interdisciplinary methods,” she explained. “Even when considering something such as surgery, the process of determining which actions to take and where to make incisions, these decisions can certainly be considered artful.”

The fact that art can enhance evidence-based healthcare practice is due to the observational skills gained from visual literacy. Specifically, visual literacy entails for perceptual accuracy of details and a template for systematically moving through a visual.

“[The exhibition] aims to show that art and science both have a lot of emphasis on detail,” explained Wekerle, “because much of the details [in healthcare] are open to interpretation, education in visual literacy provides practice in a no right-or-wrong situation.”

“Visual literacy means that you develop a language and tolerance for ambiguous situations,” Wekerle added, “when you encounter a distressful situation and you are capable to have a very systematic method which mimics the scientific method, you begin to realize that science and art are very closely aligned.”

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Picturing Wellness I features a number of works from the McMaster collection, including those by David Blackwood, Blake Debassige, Michelle Bellemare and Betta Goodwin. The pressing issue of mental health and child-abuse resonates from a significant number of these works.

“Collectively we can play a part in alleviating the stigma for mental health, especially in men. The MSU Mental Health Strategy has a vision of different ways to encourage McMaster students to reach out, and reinforcing the notion that reaching out is resilience,” affirmed Wekerle.

“We know that child abuse is unfortunately also a common experience, and one that should be disclosed as soon as possible, to ensure better mental health as an outcome,” she added.

Picturing Wellness II: Museums and Social Engagement reflects on broader issues concerning trauma, body, memory, medicine, history, health and the museum. The opening reception will take place on Jan. 14 followed by a panel discussion on Feb. 25.

Photo Credits: Jon White/Photo Editor

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