This essay explores a collaboration between a visual artist (Hildebrandt) and her museum-educator–art-critic colleague (Voeller) that led to a series of public events and an exhibition of drawings made by the artist in response to her experience with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The artist’s narrative vignettes about her cancer experience and images of her drawings are interwoven with the educator–critic’s account of how the collaboration motivated her to reflect critically on the professional museum practices that frame how viewers should relate to art through formal, historical, and conceptual appreciation. Drawing inspiration from Arthur W. Frank’s call to “think with” illness narratives as a practice of empathic and self-reflexive engagement, the essay asks how museum education practices might facilitate empathic relationships and self-and-other awareness through and around art. A pair of public conversations among the artist, oncologists, and other participants is presented as a case study. Finally, the essay asks how the specific situation described relates to larger questions about the significance of empathy to the clinical practice of healthcare, and to conversations within the field of contemporary art about the relational dimensions of art.
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