Culture and ageing: reflections on the arts and nursing


  • Steven P. Wainwright BSc MSc PhD GCE RGN,

  • Clare Williams BSc MSc PhD RGN RHV

Steven P. Wainwright,
Florence Nightingale School of Nursing,
King's College London,
57 Waterloo Road,
London SE1 8WA,


Aim.  In this paper, we focus on ageing as an area in which nursing, society and the humanities can be profitably conjoined. We illustrate our argument with three case studies of ageing: in painting, opera and ballet.

Background.  There has been a recent spectacular increase in papers devoted to the relatively new field of the medical humanities. We argue for a similar renaissance in thinking about the connections between the arts and nursing.

Discussion.  First, we consider the paintings of J.M.W. Turner (1775–1851) as examples of loss, ageing and death. Second, we draw upon Leoš Janáček's opera ‘The Makropulos Case’ (1926) as a focus for debate about human mortality. Third, we review some ethnographic research on the balletic body as an example of cultures of youthful ageing.

Conclusion.  A focus on the embodiment of vulnerability is a productive catalyst for research on the intimate connections between self and society, biology and culture, and reason and emotion. Such a research agenda would be the hallmark of a holistic approach to the arts and nursing.