Psychiatry predominantly uses an evidence-based way of understanding patients. Over the past two decades, however, the idea has become acceptable that something can also be learned from the arts. This article suggests a precise role for ‘narrative understanding’, but argues that something further can be learned by examining a particular mode of attention – that which an experienced viewer might give to a painting or listener to a piece of serious music. The article articulates the contrast between the detached attention of the scientist and the engaged attention of the artist in terms of two traditions of medicine: Hippocratic and Asklepian. It argues that it is possible to combine these and that the ways in which an informed viewer looks at paintings or listener listens to music can be models for this sort of attention.
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