Friday, August 16, 2019

Aesthetic deficit

Recently I have been visiting hospital to undergo tests.  I have dreaded going back to the hospital after I spent so much time there some years ago when my mother was ill.  Now the horrid experience of being poked and prodded and not yet definitively diagnosed is mine - and in such thoroughly depressing surroundings.
Why are some hospitals so disgracefully devoid of anything visually comforting or uplifting?  It is bad enough for those of us who are temporarily unwell, but how awful for those who are over worked and under paid spending all their working days in these surroundings.  Because of financial shortages the places are not only far from uplifting, but generally give a strong impression of not being cared for.  Only the care of the staff towards the patients is generous.
At present I am unable to do much other than read distracting novels (I read Denise Mina's Conviction, and am working my way through Ngaio Marsh's Inspector Alleyn novels.)  So today I started distracting myself with thoughts about what kind of art I would like to see on hospital walls.
Work which is positive and pleasant in appearance would of course be desirable, but I think that I personally would want something that also engages curiosity and thought, just as I prefer to read novels which are well written.
Of course because everyone has different aesthetic taste, I can see why some hospitals go for still life paintings.  But the first example I thought of was something by the Mark Boyle family.
(image from here)
When I have encountered his work I was fascinated by the large reproductions of random parts of the world.  Such a size I think would tend to take minds off personal problems for a short time at least, rather than sitting in increasing dread anticipation.  But maybe this would be too close to the actual surroundings!  That especially so if the story behind the artwork is not explained.
I do think that size is important.  The image must demand attention to distract. 
(image from here)
Jeff Wall's photograph inspired by Hokusai does that, and even if you don't know the original there is so much to attract, intrigue, and amuse.  I also think that keeping the mind alert is a good idea, because as I have found, it is so easy simply to deal with the situation simply by shutting oneself down.
Perhaps large reproductions of Hokusai prints, or something similarly human, busy, and with a touch of humour. 

What do you think? 


  1. Olga, I am sorry to hear that you are going through a difficult time. I hope you can get a diagnosis soon so that treatment can begin and you can put this behind you. Hospitals are depressing places.

    Coincidentally, I too have been reading distracting novels, including some by Denise Mina.

  2. I do not envy your current situation - not just the poking and prodding in a place that is depressing but the fact that you have previously spent time there when your mother was being treated. Back when my doc was having such a time figuring out my issues, he suggested that I might be referred to the Mayo Clinic for testing and I knew I just couldn't do it. I'd spent 3 months on that campus with my best friend who was seeking solutions to her liver cancer. Although I became intimately familiar with the town, the campus and some of its doctors with much of the experience there positive, and so to return to it for my own care should have held some comfort, it did not. It would bring back too many difficult memories of her pain and suffering and eventual defeat. Surprisingly, my dr understood and said there was another Mayo location I could go to instead. Fortunately, it got sorted out without that trip.

    But the Mayo experience was an eye opener for me because of all the art, some of it by famous people like Andy Warhol and Dale Chihuly and some of it old and anonymous like weavings and tapestries. In its early days, the people who conceived of the clinic instituted some groundbreaking practices, and one of them was making sure the space in which the patients had to wait and be treated were beautiful uplifting places, critical they knew to a patient's recovery. I'd never experienced anything like it in the medical world.

    You are spot on about the kind of art to put in places like this. A lot of the art at Mayo is big, be it paintings or sculptures. But there are also more intimate pieces, in glass and wood and metal. The range of subjects is broad, the time periods represented as well as styles equally broad. Everything well described in signage. Something for everyone everywhere you look. It distracted us in a good way, day after grueling day. It gave us something to think about besides our situation. I don't know if I could have handled as well as I did those three months if there hadn't been so much art to absorb everywhere we went on campus.

    I've noted that the hospital in my town has tried to do something similar, putting up artwork by local artists in the hallways. It definitely helps.

    May your doctors quickly discover what ails you and get you back to full health. In the meantime, enjoy your books.

    1. Sheila, thanks for your long comment. It is interesting how our past emotions can be so intertwined with place and object, and can colour future encounters.
      Unfortunately health and safety do not allow for our hospitals to have any artwork that cannot be wiped clean and is fire-proof, so all those lovely pieces of work that you described in the Mayo clinic such as weavings and sculpture are not allowed.
      Meantime, at least while I wait for appointments I can be at home surrounded by familiar uplifting objects as well as the view of the garden. We have young foxes who come out to play in the twilight - they definitely lift the spirits.

    2. The health and safety rules apply here as well. My own hospital had to quit accepting artwork that was not framed under glass; The quilts that they'd been hanging were deemed a health risk unless in glass cases and the hospital could not afford the cases. As for Mayo, the fiber art IS in glass case displays. Not sure where they got the money to do that but probably private donations.

      You and I are lucky that our homes provide glimpses of nature and objects that bring us joy - I know for me, it makes all the difference in the world, whether I am ailing or not!