As part of Paintings in Hospitals' 60th anniversary celebrations, we brought together an exciting panel at our Framing the Future event to discuss the future innovations of arts in health. Watch Dr Val Huet give her provocation, emphasising the importance of art playing a part in our lives from an early age…


I worked in partnership with Paintings in Hospitals for research on work-related stress and it was really important to have access to their fantastic collection of artworks that was on display on the walls of the organization within which we worked.

Now, one of the most exciting outcomes of this research, obviously, was writing and publishing but what got me incredibly excited was to find out that all these professionals from all sorts of backgrounds and statuses within organisations connected for the first time with the thought that art may be for them. The phrase I used to hear the most is ‘I'm no good at art’ or ‘art isn't for me’ and, actually, having an invitation to engage and be supported to engage with artworks and making a response using art, opens up the possibility that you don't need to be an expert and it's fine to come in at your point. It's fine to go and walk into a museum or gallery and look at an artwork and see what you think, what you feel about it.

I suppose the first part of my provocation is that we need to do a lot of work for visual art to take down this idea that unless you're an expert it's not your business to get engaged in art. People remembered exactly when they discovered that they were ‘no good’ at art. They could pinpoint the time when they stopped getting involved in art-making. And unfortunately, it happens at quite a young age.

For me, the arts in general are really important because they provide a bridge back to ourselves and to others. They are intensely relational, and we are living at the moment in a society where loneliness has been identified as a difficult problem that's affecting a lot of people. And it's a silent kind of status, loneliness. People don't say they are lonely, necessarily, but they feel it. So, we have got a really big part to play in bringing people together and engaging in these art activities, at whichever sort of level and whatever art they want to do.

This brings me to our children. We have got a tsunami of child mental health issues and there are no resources to meet this. What is happening with our children at the moment is that the arts are being culled from the curriculum. They are being taken away because there are no resources and they just are not accessed by children who are not lucky enough to get this as part of what their families may provide. So, we are forming a problem that's going to be really difficult later because, when you do access the arts at school it opens up something about learning about yourself, about others, about compassion, about empathy. It is really part of our mental health and our development. The more we take the arts away from the curriculum in schools, the more we are impoverishing the possibilities for our children to use that as part of their own growth and maybe take this up as something that they may want to go into.

In the work that I do at the British Association of Art Therapists, I cannot tell you how many people come to our introductory slots to you know when they're about 40/50 years old - people who have been stuck in the wrong career all their lives and, finally, they go back and try and do something about it. Very often it's like ‘well, my parents told me there was no money to be made in the arts’, which is really an issue, but I think there is something about maybe presenting it as a possibility that if you can't make a career out of it, maybe you would like to have it as part of your life anyway.

So, my provocation is we really need to start campaigning for the arts not to disappear from our children's lives at school. It is very important it is provided at school. But also, research shows that how arts are taught is really important. It's not just about throwing a few paintbrushes and doing something with somebody who is not particularly well trained. Or doing a Shakespeare play badly that is going to put your child off looking at Shakespeare or theatre for the rest of their lives. The way that we teach the arts is also incredibly important, so it's not just bringing the arts back into school, it is actually bringing quality of teaching of arts in schools. I think this is something that I would like to see as a framing of the future: to get back to stopping this belief that cramming our kids with more and more exams, and more and more academic subjects, is going to be creating some well balanced and resilient adults because I fear it's not. We really need to value the arts within our children's work.

Find out about just some of Paintings in Hospitals work with younger people…

60 years of Paintings in Hospitals

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Dr Val Huet is CEO of the British Association of Art Therapists, a role she has held since 2003. She also co-founded the Art Therapy Practice Research Network in 2000. Val has lectured internationally and, between 2004 and 2014, was the Chair of the Claremont Project, an award-winning resource providing arts therapies, arts for health and wellbeing activities to older people. In 2015, Val completed a PhD on art therapy groups for work-related stress. Val is on Twitter (@ValHuet1)