In this issue of Journal of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing, we have pulled together a number of papers that focus on the arts in mental health nursing, in contrast to the art of mental health nursing. We have facilitated as much as possible the use of a variety of media and presentations; as well as representations. Of course, the long-held tension between the art and science of nursing is paralleled in the publishing world, particularly where ‘academic’ journals are concerned. What makes a scholarly paper is open to debate and those papers published which are directly related to the arts and/or utilize the arts are not always viewed favourably by the ‘scientists’ of this world. Yet the creation of an academic paper is, in itself, an artistic endeavour. It could be argued that art is not a separate activity engaged in at will; rather it is inherent in science, practice, work, play and life, even in death.

As already alluded too, the art of nursing is a familiar concept and refers to the personal wisdom and insight that the individual carer develops along the route (Katims 1993). It is generally thought of as knowledge that is not grounded in science or theory but is rather the intuitive application of formal knowledge. Nursing as an aesthetic experience is a lived experience, manifest as one's actions and one's interactions with the world. This is always lived by the author. Hence nursing, when viewed as an aesthetic experience, transforms the nurse from observer to participant (Begley 1996) and who would argue that nursing is not a participatory experience? The philosophical connections between practice experience and aesthetics can be traced back to Aristotle, who used the term ‘praxis’ to describe the integration of senses, thought, action and meaning-based practice.

With this talk of best practice and praxis, the reader might guess that as a result of pulling this themed issue together, I have once again been confronted with the well-rehearsed and often polarized views regarding the art and science of nursing that continue to underlie many academic, scholarly and practice-driven discussions. Such philosophical questions as ‘what is art?’ have, of course, been asked for centuries and have been deliberated in nursing, specifically around the concepts of holism and care. Numerous health-related books have been written on these subjects and indeed many papers published in nursing journals serve to explicate and interrogate some of the inherent complexities of such enquiries. Thus ‘what is nursing’; ‘what is art in nursing’ and ‘what is the art of nursing’ have become familiar questions in the literature and as such the papers in this special issue do not seek to replicate that discussion. However, a more recent, although just as challenging, postmodern framing of those questions reads: when is nursing art (Watson 2005). Moreover, what does it mean to speak of the arts in mental health? The authors of the focused papers in this issue believe that mental health nursing and mental health care in general has a good relationship with the arts and indeed its own artistry. How this is captured, presented and represented through clinical practice, education and research, however, continues to be explored and tested and this in itself requires a creative process, for the expression of artistry-in-action is never simple. Nevertheless, this expression is a responsibility for each of us, practitioners, educators and researchers alike. I believe that the authors of the focused papers in this issue attempt to both present and represent some of this carefully crafted creative process as they also grapple with the interesting subject of the arts in mental health.


  1. Top of page
  2. References
  • Begley A. (1996) Literature and poetry. Pleasure and Practice. International Journal of Nursing Practice 2, 182188.
  • Katims I. (1993) Nursing as aesthetic experience and the notion of practice. Scholarly Inquiry for Nursing Practice: An International Journal 7, 269278.
  • Watson J. (2005) Foreword. In: The Art of Nursing, 2nd edn (Wendler, M.C.). STTI, New York.