The Use of Visual Arts in Health Communication During the COVID-19 Pandemic and HIV/AIDS Epidemic Open Access

Smith, Brianna (Spring 2023)

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Background: Health communication is a multidisciplinary and multifaceted discipline that aims to reach diverse audiences to share pertinent health information; the purpose of doing so is to influence, engage, and support individuals, communities, and health professionals to adopt, introduce, and/or maintain behaviors, practices, or policies that ultimately enhance health outcomes. Health communication is a vital component of public health and has been enhanced through the use of the arts.

Purpose: This scoping review aims to identify the ways in which the visual arts have been used or could be used in health communication as well as the effects of doing so during the HIV/AIDS epidemic and COVID-19 pandemic. The findings of this review may be used to inform future arts-based health communications nationally and globally.

Methods: Using PubMed, Web of Science, and Academic Search Complete as search engines, a review of the existing literature was conducted. A total of 1,226 papers were uploaded to Covidence. After removing duplicates and screening for relevance, 12 papers were deemed appropriate for this review. Papers that discussed the role of visual art in health communication during the COVID-19 pandemic and/or during the HIV/AIDS epidemic were included (if available in English), while papers that did not discuss a form of visual art and their role in health communication during the COVID-19 pandemic and/or during the HIV/AIDS epidemic were excluded.

Results: Literature in the form of research papers and peer-reviewed journal articles were included in this review. Of the 12 papers included, 9 centered around COVID-19 while 3 focused on HIV/AIDS. Across the papers, several forms of visual art were discussed: namely, photography/pictures, graphic visuals, illustrations, murals, cartography, and drawings. The HIV/AIDS articles sought primarily to increase knowledge and enhance communication. Evaluation (addressed in one HIV/AIDS paper) involved mixed methods, though the qualitative and quantitative findings contradicted one another. The majority of COVID-19 papers aimed to validate the potential benefit of incorporating visual arts in health communication. Only 2 of the papers included a control group—which elevated the study’s rigor—and none included one that strictly examined the impact of supplementing health communication with visual arts. While the results indicate that several forms of visual art are being used to communicate pertinent health information related to HIV/AIDS or COVID-19, the findings are largely qualitative.

Conclusions: Despite the many forms of visual art being utilized in health communication during the COVID-19 pandemic and the HIV/AIDS epidemic, challenges exist that should be addressed in future research. First, there is a need to further develop the field of arts-based health communication as it is a relatively young discipline that is still evolving. This can be done by conducting more rigorous studies that incorporate quantitative analyses to determine the impact of the arts in health communication, investigate the mechanism of change, and identify the most effective mode of delivery. Second, there is a need to set clear parameters on the definition of visual arts (in the context of research). This review found that this term is vague especially as a search term; it yielded papers related to visuals that were not creative by nature or did not fit the definition of visual arts as defined by the National Art Education Association as traditional fine arts such as drawing, painting, printmaking, photography, and sculpture. Clarifying the definition of visual art in the context of health communication will enhance related research and support further development of this field.

Table of Contents

Literature Review...1

Defining Health Communication...1

Strengths and Weaknesses of Health Communication... 3

Conceptual Framework. 4

The Power of the Arts. 5

The Intersection of Art and Public Health: A Brief History... 6

Problem Statement...7

Purpose & Significance Statement...8


Inclusion & Exclusion Criteria...10

Studies Identified & Included...11

Data Analysis...12



Main Objectives...15



Art Forms Employed...29




Summary of Results...33




Public Health Recommendations...37


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