Adrian Hill, Tuberculosis and Art Therapy
Adrian Keith Graham Hill is held by many as the founder of art therapy. Hill’s 1945 book Art Versus Illness documents the birth of the field. While recovering from tuberculosis in a sanatorium, Hill surmounted his boredom through the “simple act of drawing” (Hill, 1945, p.14). He writes, “I became… a diligent and leisurely composer of precise pencil productions, each of which, in the terms of my restricted medium, sought to express my personal reactions to the unreality of my existence” (Hill, 1945, p.14). For Hill, art became a means by which to pass the time and convey his discontentment about his present situation.
As an outpatient, Hill began to see his first ‘patient’ — a man named Bert. The two met to casually discuss their artistic endeavors at the suggestion of Hill’s doctor (Hill, 1945, p.21-3). It wasn’t until 1942, while Hill was teaching art to a small group of patients recovering from tuberculosis at the sanatorium, that he considered the potential of his practice: “…I [began] to visualise a nebulous panacea for boredom, a form of escape which would combine the virtues of a creative and curative value” (Hill, 1945, p.28). He subsequently proposed launching a proper art therapy program at the sanatorium (Hill, 1945, p.29). He told the interested patients:
“To be happily occupied is at all times a gift from the gods, and in a period of long convalescence, it is a positive saving grace… The Art germ once it becomes firmly planted in the mind and the heart, is far more difficult to dislodge than another germ with which you are all more familiar. Indeed the former germ can help enormously in banishing the latter bug”. (Hill, 1945, p.30)
Modern art therapy is founded on the basic principle that art can heal. Hill recognized its potential with soldiers recovering from tuberculosis during World War I. Hill employed numerous tactics in order to engage the patients and increase their appreciation of art (Hill, 1945, p.33-47). For the novice artists, Hill encouraged them to make doodles. This simple task helped them to build fundamental skills and increased their confidence in their abilities (Hill, 1945, p.35-6). The patients ranged greatly in degree of artistic ability, and Hill addressed each of their needs individually (Hill, 1945, p. 33-40).
Many of them were initially apprehensive about art therapy, but Hill was able to promote in each of the patients an appreciation of art and cure them of their prejudices — as well as their bodily illnesses (Hill, 1945, p.51-8). For one particular patient, a young Canadian airman who was nearing death, art-making proved a stimulating and healing endeavor. Hill claims that by encouraging this young man to try his hand at water-colour painting, he in fact extended his life (1945, p.59-63).
Adrian Hill coined the term ‘art therapy’ in 1942. Although his work had humble beginnings, Hill’s influence spread as more people joined him in promoting healing through the arts. In the mid-1940s, the National Association for the Prevention of Tuberculosis implemented an art therapy program in over seventy hospitals and sanatoria (Hill, 1945, p.105). But this was only the beginning of Hill’s vision. In 1964, the British Association of Art Therapists was founded. Hill, along with other influential members of the field, was instrumental in paving the way for future generations of art therapists. According to Geoffrey Marshall, Hill’s work was an “instrument for the treatment of disease and the prevention of unhappiness” (Hill, 1945, p.vi). Today, Adrian Hill serves as an inspiration to anyone who wishes to overcome an illness with some guidance and a little bit of creativity.
by Morgan Bush, Intern
Reference: Hill, Adrian. (1945). Art Versus Illness. London: George Allen and Unwin.