New UGS course uses art to explore health care issues

Brendalys Lebron

In a UGS course, students viewed paintings about death and sexuality as a way to explore deeper issues in health care and nursing.  

The class, Growth and Development of Adolescents Living with Chronic Conditions, is a first year signature course taught by associate nursing professor Eileen Kintner. It involved a partnership with the Blanton Museum of Art, which created exhibitions for the students’ use.  

Kintner said the course was designed to expose students to “bigger questions” about the challenges youth with illness and disability face. 

The course teaches students important skills for succeeding at the University, and also about various resources at their disposal throughout the campus, Kintner said.

“We needed to introduce [students] to what are called ‘UT gems’ — things on campus like the LBJ Library, the Blanton Museum, the Ransom Center,” Kinter said. 

Siobhan McCusker, the Blanton Museum’s museum educator for university audiences, collaborated with Kintner when her students visited a temporary exhibition concerning cultural and artistic representations of AIDS and HIV during the 1990s.

“Students were able to look closely at something visual, come up with personal ideas about what it is they were looking at and collectively form an interpretation of the art work and artists’ intention,” McCusker said. “They used critical thinking skills, oral communication and personal lived experience to engage with works of art. They were deeply moved by the images.”

The course, which Dr. Kintner designed, has been taught six times and has had over 150 students in total. The wide array of conditions which it covers ­— from diabetes to cancer — has varied throughout the years.

“The art works by artists who were living with AIDS at the time, or who depicted AIDS from their perspective … gave students a different perspective on what it meant to have a terminal illness two decades ago, for an illness that is considered chronic today,” McCusker said. 

Laura Walter, nursing senior and course peer mentor, said the Blanton gallery viewing in the course was a good way to visualize and empathize with people who have chronic illnesses. 

“[It] provided a tangible way to see and understand chronic conditions,” Walter said in a press release.