How People Who Are Dying or Mourning Engage with the Arts


  • Tony Walter University of Bath


art, music, consumption, creativity, death, grief, bereavement, funeral, therapy


Though death and loss are recognized as significant themes in fine and popular arts forms, we know virtually nothing about how people who themselves are dying or bereaved use the arts - unless they are practising artists or under therapeutic supervision. This article first reviews how established artists have used death/loss themes in their work, along with the work of arts practitioners in palliative and bereavement care and the role of the arts in death education. These literatures tend to privilege the production of artworks over their consumption, and reveal the absence of research into the arts practices of lay people who are dying or grieving. The article goes on to advocate ethnographic research into lay practices, using the author's own personal experiences and observations to indicate the kind of findings that ethnography may produce, in particular the likely importance - at the end as in the rest of life - of meaningful arts consumption. The article then suggests avenues for researching lay arts practices at the end of life, before concluding with some possible implications for professional care of dying and bereaved people.

Author Biography

Tony Walter, University of Bath

Professor of Death Studies

Dept of Social & Policy Sciences

University of Bath