Art in hospitals
An interview with Dr. Neil Shah
by Kay Hare
Dr. Neil Shah has recently qualified as a General practitioner but now feels his artwork is more important than ever, helping him get through lockdown as well as relieving him from the daily routine and stress of working especially in this time of a global pandemic. Shah sees art as an important and necessary tool not just in his own life but expanding his vision of creating more art in hospitals. He is keen to find a way to balance his career as a doctor and artist in order to create a more holistic approach to healing and helping people.
When did you start painting, and why?
I started from a young age, doodling, and sketching and I love colours. I use to grab felt tip pens and bright coloured markers. At primary school, I won an art prize, and in secondary school, I did GCSE art, and this honed in my skills, and I then won a Lord Mayors Print prize that went on to be sold. Since then, I have kept painting up as enjoyment and as a therapy to express my emotions. I have an affinity for colours, and I like experimenting seeing which colours soothe my emotions and resonate with the spiritual side of my nature. Since leaving school ten, twelve years ago, I have been exploring all sorts of different sizes of canvas and painting techniques that now I want to share on a broader level.
Do you think working as General Practitioner has encouraged you to paint? For example, have you thought about art therapy?
Yes defiantly. Whilst studying medicine, I have found painting relaxes me and has enabled me to focus more. It is important that I had an outlet for my creative side during exams and to express my emotions. Before lockdown, I was interested in combining art therapy with my practice and started to make enquiries. However, the pandemic paused this venture, but I see art therapy as a fantastic way people can release negativity and trauma. I have had the vision to create a centre for mindfulness, spirituality, and art therapy combined with a holistic medicine approach.
Do you think you can combine your career as a doctor and artist?
I am sure I can. At the moment, I am not established as an artist, and I would love to balance my clinical time with my art. I work four days a week as a GP, and this is more than normal, but once I am more established, I would like to combine this with my art. Being a doctor, I can prescribe medicines; however, being an artist as well, I feel I can pick up on patients that may not benefit from prescriptive medicines and would do better long term focusing on the holistic perhaps art therapy aspect. I feel fortunate that I understand and can, in the future, tune in to people’s feelings and work out the root cause of their problems. For example, I recently had a patient who was angry and aggressive and felt no one was listening to him. I picked up on this and realised it was a physiological issue, not a physical problem, and perhaps in the future, suggesting art therapy would help someone like this much more than prescription pills. It is a much more humanist approach, and I realise not everyone is the same.
Has the pandemic encouraged you to paint more? More time on your hands to paint?
Given how I am quite organised with my time, I have had much more time and motivation to paint. I have already painted more than last year and I think this is the same for other artists.
What do you think about art in hospitals? Do you think there could be more? Does it help inspire patients and the staff that work in hospitals?
Having art in hospitals is inspiring for everyone who works there, visiting, and there should be more. The hospitals are by nature a fragile environment; having artwork helps visual healing and calms people. The art encourages people to switch off and think about something else rather than their problems and ailments.
How do you reach out to new clients and fans? Has social media helped?
I have kept my art career quiet for many years. Not many people knew I painted until I posted one of my art pieces featured on the front cover of the British Journal of physicality a few years ago. I joined social media a few months, and since joining, I have met amazing people and collaborated with people I would never have met before. I am now being followed by 1677 people, which has surprised me and defiantly encourages me.
Are you interested in online exhibitions?
I am, and there are many collaborations for exhibitions out there. Still, I am also aware that it is important to find legit exhibitions and genuine projects.
What are you working on at the moment, and what other artists inspire you?
I posted a new valentine’s painting yesterday on Instagram titled ‘hidden heart creates love.’ This is aimed at people loving themselves, especially after traumatic life events or negative people. This painting goes with the whole concept of loving yourself first. Then you can love others. There is a hidden heart in the painting, and the painting received two hundred and seventy likes, so this was really exciting.
That’s a good question. I like the masters such as Kandinsky, who painted with music, Dali, and Picasso. I also like Matisse and the new contemporary artists like Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore.
If I had some time and the galleries were open, I would love to visit the Tate Modern or maybe Tate Britain.
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