As part of Paintings in Hospitals’ 60th anniversary celebrations, we brought together an exciting panel of experts at our Framing the Future event to discuss the future of arts in health. Watch acclaimed artist and author Edmund de Waal give his provocation, outlining the problem with ‘hospital art’…


Last ten years: too much time in oncology units, too much time in sectioned areas of psychiatric hospitals. Too many times, too many weeks, too many months in waiting rooms. I hate Monet.

Three words: ‘paintings in hospitals’. By the end of the decade, I hate hospitals and I hate paintings in hospitals. I hate that strange attenuation of the experience of seeing a picture that was beautiful, hung without love, at the wrong scale. Glazed. In the wrong place. Passive.

In fact, the words ‘paintings’ and ‘hospitals’ are so difficult for me that I was conscious that the only time I had a similar conversation with someone who struggled was with the new director of the Imperial War Museum, who said that those were the three words that were going to make his life hell.

What do we do? What’s wrong with Monet in a corridor? It’s not where we should start.

That passivity is dangerous. That attenuation of spaces, that failure to engage with how you move into and around and through spaces, is dangerous. Every time you cross a threshold in a hospital, a hospice, a doctor’s waiting room, you are very, very exposed - you are dangerously vulnerable. What can you possibly do? What can you possibly bring to that experience of crossing over, crossing into a different space?

John Dewey, the American philosopher, wrote an extraordinary book 80 years ago called ‘Art as Experience’, trying to take back the work that happens in the encounter with art. The work that happens with the encounter with art - not the passivity, the work that happens. And he says that when you experience art it’s like the flight and perching of a bird. You’re in flight, you’re experiencing it and it’s working with you but at a certain moment you perch, you stop and at that moment it’s resonant, it does something different, you are absorbing it. It’s a challenge. It’s a good word for us. It challenges you. It brings you back to a different space but actually, it’s active. It’s the activity of experiencing art that matters. The resonance and the wonder. The flight and the perching.

What can we do? I do two things in my life: I make things and I write about them. My whole life I’ve been hugely privileged to have my hands in clay. I know the incredible gift of what it is to spend a life somatically, bodily challenged by a return to a material which is complicated and beautiful, gives to me, challenges me and makes me understand myself as a whole human being. I also write books. These two things, that somatic wholeness that can come through the exploration and encounter with the material, that restoration of the body through touch is also a restoration of our space in the world. It’s taking us back to stand again in the world in a particular space and that’s what words can do too because voice happens in space.

So, my provocation, my real deep-felt provocation is to return us to space and to voice and to the ambition, the real powerful ambition, to bring healing into these spaces.

This year is Paintings in Hospitals’ 60th anniversary, can you help us raise £60,000 to inspire better health for patients and carers across the country?

Celebrating 60 years of Paintings in Hospitals in 2019.

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Edmund de Waal OBE is an internationally acclaimed artist and writer. He is renowned for his installations of porcelain vessels, exhibited worldwide. Edmund is also known for his bestselling memoir The Hare with Amber Eyes, which won numerous literary prizes. Both his written and artistic practices have broken new ground through critical engagement with the history and potential of ceramics, architecture and poetry. Edmund is a trustee of the V&A, a Patron of Paintings in Hospitals and, in 2011, was made an OBE for his services to art. Find out more about Edmund de Waal via his website (