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In his article ‘Evidence-based Art?’ (June 2001 JRSM, pp. 306-307), Professor Michael Baum dismisses the Exeter Evaluation as ‘Essentially, staff and patients were asked whether they liked the environment and whether or not their life was enriched by the beautiful things that surrounded them’. We did not ask these or any other such ill-formulated questions.
Admittedly we made opinion surveys and not the randomized controlled trials so beloved of clinical scientists. I do not believe that art alone in healthcare settings can treat disease in the way that interventions with drugs, surgery and, indeed, professional art therapy do. Therefore clinical trials are inappropriate in this field. Research and the collection of sound evidence is nonetheless in very short supply and the Exeter Evaluation was the first truly independent work to establish a full factual description of every aspect of a major hospital art project.
The polarization of ‘strict scientific empiricists and fuzzy-logic experientialists’ described by Michael Baum is the problem, not the solution he seems content with when he states that ‘The value of art and music are givens in our culture’. He offers as examples hospital chapels and the room of Mark Rothko paintings at Tate Modern. Chapels, atrium galleries, entrance halls, corridors, stairways and waiting rooms in hospitals are now commonly adorned with art but these are not places exclusive to hospitals and certainly not the sites of treatment and care. Such places are wards, consulting, examination and treatment rooms, imaging rooms, delivery suites, intensive-care units, rooms for dialysis, chemotherapy, physiotherapy and radiotherapy and so on. Some clinical staff believe that these areas should be clean, sterile and stripped down for high-tech medicine and there is surely a debate to be held about this.
The debate must hinge upon evidence, not merely the assertion in Michael Baum's article that ‘the life-enhancing value of fine art is common experience’ which, like his references to Mozart and Raoul Dufy, in my view quite misses the point. We will continue to collect evidence with the same objectivity that we recognize and respect in the work of clinical scientists and we are keen that they join with us in constructive debate.