Evidence, Medicine and Art – Lived Experience Completing the Picture

Authors: Laila Hallam

This post was originally published by the Evidence & Policy blog on 11 May 2020.

We have re-issued the article that has already been published by the Evidence & Policy blog. We would like to express gratitude to the kind offer of the editorial board of the Evidence & Policy blog.

This blog is the first of a series of blogs linked to the Evidence & Policy special issue (Volume 16, Issue 2) on Opening up evidence-based policy: exploring citizen and service user expertise. Guest Edited by Ellen Stewart, Jennifer Smith-Merry, and Marc Geddes.

Recently I came upon this photo in a post in Twitter [1]. I have seen it before. It’s a powerful image by Sir Luke Fields. The child and doctor at the centre, in the glow of the lamp. The child ill and exhausted. The doctor earnestly observing. Watching. Sitting. Waiting. Thinking. Previously, and again this time, I absorb this painting as a statement on the medical profession. A reminder of the solemness of their work. The gravity of life and death. The role of the family in the background, secondary and in the dark.

But then I was challenged to really look at the image. The Dad wasn’t simply in the background, he was standing in the shadows, he was stoic, he was purposefully and intently studying the doctor for signals. Only after considerable prodding, did I notice Dad’s hand comforting his distraught wife. The Mum collapsed in prayer, or distress, or both. Dad’s hand gently on her shoulder, reassuring her, or maybe channelling his energy into her prayer. Her faith. Their hope.

Of course, it has so much more. The dawn light coming through the window with no glass, the poverty, the love, the warmth, the exhaustion, the time passing.

I then read that Sir Henry Tate, of the Tate Gallery, had commissioned Sir Luke Fields to paint a subject of his own choosing. Sir Luke Fields had earlier lost his own one-year-old child, Philip[2].

Was the painting drawn from the family perspective of