Art as Healer

Art sustaining daily life - it works! by Jeannine Cook

Many a week has flashed past since I last blogged here, weeks that began with a wonderful kalidescope of art exhibitions in London for five days (of which more in future days) but then became a succession of shocks and anxieties as my beloved Rundle was found to have a ruptured aneurysm in his leg. Art obviously took very much a back seat as I robed and unrobed on my visits to the ICU in a local hospital, where Rundle lay fighting to beat the high odds of losing his leg.

For the next weeks, Rundle was in a hospital room overlooking the azure Mediterranean, with the view framed by beautiful umbrella pines and buildings that perfectly complemented the scene with luminous ocres and cream facades. Expansive and beautiful - I finally was able to do some quick drawings, but the wonderful variety of moods and lights was harder to capture. Nonetheless, even the act of picking up a pencil to draw helped to ground me again in this strange world in which both of us were living. Showing Rundle the drawings seemed to help him too, despite the grinding pain and discomfort.

Now the days back at home are far more interlinked with art. It helps at every turn - distraction for Rundle as he recuperates, centering for me when I can slip away for a few minutes to start drawing tiny silverpoints - a series on black ground (again!) which I found myself referring to as Ariadne's Thread. She provided the thread that helped Thesus wend his way out of the Labyrinth after he had killed the Minotaur. It seems art is helping us out of our labyrinth, towards sustaining a more normal life.

Ariadne's Thread I - pine tree bark, silverpoint on black, Jeannine Cook artist

Ariadne's Thread I - pine tree bark, silverpoint on black, Jeannine Cook artist

Ariadne's Thread II - pine tree bark, silverpoint on black, Jeannine Cook artist

Ariadne's Thread II - pine tree bark, silverpoint on black, Jeannine Cook artist

Meanwhile, my earlier gambles with an artist's eye in decisions on reorganising a house are paying off. By now, furniture is moved, paintings hung in different places, lighting improved, and everything is indeed becoming serene. Beautiful things can now breath and be seen, with remarkably few major changes. It confirms the fun and huge importance of being an artist, even in daily life when one is not wielding a paint brush! Art does sustain.

Reactions to Art by Jeannine Cook

I have previously talked in this blog about the organisation, The Art Connection, in Boston. They accept artists' donations and then enable non-profits to obtain art for their walls. I have been working with The Art Connection for some time now, because I think it is a very worthwhile cause and is good both for artists and people who otherwise might not be able to see original art that could be uplifting and healing.

In a summer e-newsletter I received from The Art Connection, they included the following piece about reactions to art by participants who were selecting art for their agency. I found it interesting, and it is revealing in many ways. I quote it verbatim, with acknowledgement to The Art Connection editors.

"57% identified that participating in the (art selection) process was a challenge. The reasons why:

- It was challenging because it was hard to make choices when there were so many good pictures to choose from!
- It was challenging because there were a lot of beautiful choices and we could not take them all!
- It was challenging because choosing art specifically for the agency is different from choosing art based simply on personal preference.
- It was challenging because different people like different things and there were a lot of opinions in the room.
- It was challenging because there were too many to choose from!

Top three identified reasons for selecting artwork : Colour, Content/theme and Visually stimulating.

Participants also shared their interesting, and sometimes surprising, thoughts on what impact they think the art will have:

- The art will improve morale and stimulate dialogue; and hopefully impact our reputation to some extent too.
- The patients will love the art and the center will also be recognised for its unique art style.
- The art will help the building have an amazing welcoming aura.
- Homeless people deserve great art as much as anyone! It will create self-esteem and respect for the home.
- I think the clients will have a sense of pride living in a program with such beautiful artwork.
- Each piece can evoke a different reaction from different individuals. I personally think the artwork will add beauty, and get students and staff talking, whether they like the art pieces or not."

The reactions expressed in these responses to The Art Connection during the art selection process really seem to run the full gamut of reactions that the general public has to art. I have watched similar reactions during art exhibitions as well. It all underscores for me that art is really, really important in people's lives, whether they realise it or not. Art is a reflection of the health of a society, and as such, should not be short-changed in the name of economic hardship.

The Role of Art in Healing by Jeannine Cook

I was so delighted when I was able to start drawing and painting again recently, after I recovered enough from surgery. I instantly felt much better, and instinctively I knew that I would continue to make progress in healing at a quicker rate, thanks to the art.

March at Butler Island, graphite, Jeannine Cook artist

March at Butler Island, graphite, Jeannine Cook artist

Even more important to me was getting to the stage where I could try to incorporate the surgery in a drawing so as to exorcise the whole event and move on in life.

recovery from Surgery, silverpoint, Jeannine Cook artist

recovery from Surgery, silverpoint, Jeannine Cook artist

My feeling that my world was becoming more serene and coherent again through art was echoed recently by a remark made to me by a fellow artist. She had just returned to art-making too, after a hiatus of two years. During that time, she had battled cancer. Her conviction, she told me, was that the fact she had left off creating art two years ago had somehow contributed to her getting sick. Now that she is painting again, she feels much better. Her story impressed me with the power that art can have, not just for viewers, but for artists, as a healer.

I have written before about the powerful, if subtle, effect art can have in hospital and other medical settings. The role of helping artists heal themselves seems less well explored publicly, yet one knows of many artists who have dealt with important issues in their lives through art. I remember, many years ago, seeing a series of paintings of a black crow lying in snow that stopped me in my tracks. It was apparently a series of works done by an artist who had been recently widowed. She had found this dead crow, and it became the vehicle through which she could come to better terms with her bereavement. They were memorable, powerful paintings.

Thoughts about this important role of art as healer for artists themselves were running through my mind when I was listening today to a delightful interview on the BBC World Service with singer/musician/writer Salman Ahmad of Junoon. He was talking about his recently published book, A Muslim Rock Star's Revolution, and the accompanying disc which is soon to be released. This balanced, thoughtful Pakistani-American citizen of the world, who comes across as joyously constructive about matters of peace and understanding, used a phrase which caught my attention. It was "whispers of the heart".

Somehow this phrase expresses perfectly the subtle role that art plays in each artist's life, through music, visual art, poetry, drama or any other medium. Not only does an artist hear these whispers of the heart when creating art, but the expression seems to explain wonderfully what happens when the art is helping to heal the artist while he or she is working.

Threading art through life in hospital by Jeannine Cook

As someone who became an artist later in life, it is always a surprise - and delight - when I discover that art is now so entwined with my DNA that it is omnipresent, even in somewhat trying circumstances.

I have just emerged from a sojourn in hospital and as I stay at a nearby hotel with my wonderful husband, I realise, when thinking back over the last three weeks, how art has been quietly sustaining me. As I lay on beds for a MRI or a CAT scan, for instance, I found it easy to lie there quietly and simply design, in my mind's eye, a silverpoint/watercolour piece I keep working on about the Circles of Life, the coincidences and circularities of events as life progresses. I found myself so absorbed in changing the design here and there, or adding new aspects, as I visualised the artwork, that I was always astonished at how fast the time went during the often lengthy tests.

Later, as I lay in bed, overly tethered to tubes and pumps and drips, I again turned to subject matter I want to try and explore in artwork, starting to think of how to depict the subjects and how to design the pieces. It helped greatly to pass the time. Then when I was finally "emancipated" enough to be able to walk a little along the hospital corridors, I studied the art along the walls with great interest.

Since this is the Mayo Clinic and their two-year-old hospital is very much state of the art (with exemplary care, I have to emphasise), I was curious to see what they had selected as artwork for the new facility. In the Clinic proper, there has always been artwork, but often large and more tending to the decorative and local – pleasant but not often such that it stands out. The Hospital is a little different. The entrance hall is graced with a small gallery, showing at present a diversity of works by local and regional artists connected with the Women's Center of Jacksonville. Beyond is a glory of Dale Chihuly's skills: a big and joyous glass chandelier celebrating colour and life. At the end of that entrance corridor, by the elevators, there is the most wonderful wall with a huge, sectioned piece of marble, beautifully striated and stippled in warm golds and browns - Nature at its most wonderful.

Dale Chihuly's chandelier in the hospital foyer at the Mayo Clinic, Jacksonville, FL

Dale Chihuly's chandelier in the hospital foyer at the Mayo Clinic, Jacksonville, FL

Up on the hospital room floors, there are large pieces of art, grouped in threes, some prints, some originals. Here, nature predominated, but in diffuse and almost stylised depictions, in uplifting colour ranges. They were cleverly chosen for they all allow one's own imagination to complement and supplement the images and let one wander and linger in those worlds. Ideal for stressed relatives and half-doped patients, I suspect!

Nonetheless, this presence of art allowed me to feel sustained and "still an artist" - something that I know helps me heal faster and in a more serene fashion. Hurray for art!

Guess what - the 'flu and art don't mix! by Jeannine Cook

Well, I seem to be following the general fashion at present, coughing my heart out and trying to recover from 'flu that was over-generously shared in a plane returning from Europe last week

What got me interested as I began slightly to revive - or at least stop sleeping all the time - was how effectively the creative side of me, or even the interest in art, had been temporarily extinguished. That led me to reflect on the ramifications of all the artists' lives affected by some form of illness, physical or mental. I decided first and foremost that it is a testimony to the courage of so many of those famous people that despite, or in spite of, everything, they continued, and created marvellous work. Van Gogh comes readily to mind, with all the anguish and tribulations he experienced. Even when he was apparently being treated for epilepsy, he created the work Starry Night which shows the possible side-effects of the digitalis treatment. Perhaps another most daunting situation must have been the blurring of vision that so many older artists experienced with cataracts forming.

Starry Night, Vincent van Gogh,, 1889, (Image courtesy of MOMA, New York)

Starry Night, Vincent van Gogh,, 1889, (Image courtesy of MOMA, New York)

Perhaps another most daunting situation must have been the blurring of vision that so many older artists experienced with cataracts forming.

The Japanese Footbridge, 1920-22, Claude Monet (Image courtesy of MOMA, New York)

The Japanese Footbridge, 1920-22, Claude Monet (Image courtesy of MOMA, New York)

It is interesting that we become more aware of this with Monet's later paintings; he was among the earlier artists to advocate working outdoors en plein air. The sunlight exacted its price. (It is thus a reminder to all of us artists who work outside - shade your eyes as much as possible from the sun.)

An interesting thought evolves from a lot of the examples of artists in previous generations working under daunting physical and mental conditions: many of their conditions can now be detected and alleviated, if not cured. Would we all be the poorer, collectively, if they had not had to push through these handicaps? A fascinating TimesonLine article examines these issues - well worth a read. despite being written some while ago.

These thoughts on artists' ability to transcend physical conditions and still create art tie in with another most interesting article I returned to in January's issue of ARTNews by Ann Landi, entitled "Is Beauty in the Brain of the Beholder?" I had alluded to these fascinating areas of research from another angle when I wrote on December 1st last of the ability of Art to Lift the Spirits of the Sick. This article neatly complements because it discusses some of the neuroesthetics research being carried out, learning what parts of the brain react to - say - images of artworks. There are different parts of the brain that react to colour, form or motion, while other researchers are tiptoeing into the minefields of rating artworks as beautiful, neutral or ugly, in other words, an aesthetic experience. This level of perception of satisfaction with viewing a piece of art is being applied as an experiment to which I have also previously alluded - at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, where the exhibition, "Beauty and the Brain: A Neural Approach to Aesthetics" is showing from January 23rd to April 11th. People will be asked to chose a favourite version of Jean Arp's 1959 sculpture, Woman of Delos.

Well. that that remains is to get the different portions of my brain un-be'flued and then perhaps I can do something about creating art, not just thinking about it. I can't wait!

Another health benefit from art by Jeannine Cook

Not so long ago, I was writing about the different ways art could help heal people. I was therefore fascinated to read in yesterday's about a programme at Britain's National Gallery called Ageing Creatively. It is designed to involved people who may be isolated, unable to get out much and generally in need of mental stimulation and companionship, including - at present - people suffering from aphasia, difficulties in communicating in any form, a situation often brought on by suffering a stroke.

By learning ways of painting that, for instance 17th century artists used, the participants are creating art work, and then turning to more modern art to do the same sort of thing. Apparently, all these sorts of activities are hugely helpful and the art is the pathway to a lot of healing.

National Gallery Innovative Art Project For Stroke Suvivors to Restore Creativity

National Gallery Innovative Art Project For Stroke Suvivors to Restore Creativity

Alzheimer's art therapy tours at National Gallery of Australia boost dementia sufferers' wellbeing

Alzheimer's art therapy tours at National Gallery of Australia boost dementia sufferers' wellbeing

The National Gallery Outreach Officer, Emma Rehm, describes the many faceted Ageing Creatively programme thus: “Participatory projects which use art as their starting point bring clear benefits for people with disabilities in terms of physical stimulation, sociability, creativity and enjoyment, and this can have a positive effect on health and general well-being. Participants will be able to share their thoughts and use the National Gallery paintings as inspiration for their own work.” Newham Council’s Executive Member for Health, Councillor Clive Furness, said: “When people suffer a serious or debilitating condition, there is the fear that their useful and creative life is at an end. Projects like this enable people to discover and develop new skills, and to do so in the company of a group of friends."

I can't think of a more constructive endorsement for the role of art in daily life for everyone, no matter what the situation.

Art to lift the Spirits of the Sick by Jeannine Cook

I have known for many a long year how important it is to have art along the walls of hospitals, clinics and doctors' offices, but just recently, on a personal basis, I have had that theoretical knowledge made vividly real. Walking along the corridors of the local Hospice, it was indeed uplifting and calming to see art on the wall, of all types but all powerful enough to be appreciated.

Art Tour - Mayo Clinic Patient Video Guide - Florida

Art Tour - Mayo Clinic Patient Video Guide - Florida

Many years ago, I was advocating at our local hospital that their building enlargement process should include original artwork on the walls, a message initially received with reticence. However, artwork was soon to be seen throughout the large facilities, and I was lucky enough to have my work purchased as well. I had a vivid affirmation of what art could do because, soon after, a friend phoned me to say that he had had to make a 3 a.m. emergency visit to the ICU, where one of my paintings was hanging on the wall opposite the elevator door on the ICU floor. "I can't tell you," he continued", how calming and helpful it was to see your work on that wall, in the midst of my anxiety." It was one of the best compliments I have ever received.

Now, there are countless studies which clearly demonstrate how valuable art can be in medical environments. Last year, Dr. Lee Eliot Major was writing in the UK Daily Telegraph about work done in Italy and in the wonderful children's hospital at Great Ormond Street, London. This autumn, a long article in the Chicago Tribune by Joanna Broder addressed the help given by getting sick children immersed in creating art through the Snow City Foundation. The Dallas Morning News ran a long article in October this year about all the research done, since the 1960s, on what kinds of art help people heal better in a hospital situation - no surprise that more easily "understandable" art, like reasonably realistic landscapes, for instance, was more accepted than abstract art which required perhaps an effort for a sick person to relate to.

Extrapolating from medical environments to one's daily environment, it would seem that the message for us all is - have art on your walls that lifts your spirits, calms you, interests you and, in general, enhances your daily life. Not such a bad prescription!

Nature and a Sense of Time by Jeannine Cook

Between preparing for my Art-Tasting open studio on December 5th and attending to family health matters, I am itching to get back to creating art. However, as I wrote in a previous blog (Daily Delights of November 26th), the natural world around me is sustaining and nurturing.

I was reminded of an article I had read in El Pais back in June, where journalist Isabel Lafont was interviewing Marina Abramovic. Whilst discussing her performance art, Ms. Abramovic talked of her upcoming MOMA retrospective that will last three months, with her performing day in, day out, all day in front of the public. The resultant mental and physical changes in her would thus be perceptible to the viewing public. She went on to remark, "We live in times that are so fleeting that we need to stop and become aware of the present moment. Artists need to do this and ensure that people stop for a moment and come to a sense of the here and now." (My translation from Spanish).

For me, nature provides that passport to the sense of here and now. When I am painting or drawing subjects from the natural world, that I hope will convey my messages to the viewing public about the healing, centering power of nature, I find that time stands still. One's sense of time is always relative, anyway, (haven't we all wondered when, oh when, something important will finally happen, or when something horrid will just end and go away?), but when I get involved in art, time has absolutely no meaning.

Calla Lilies, Palma, silverpoint Jeannine Cook artist

Calla Lilies, Palma, silverpoint Jeannine Cook artist

If people viewing my silverpoint drawings or watercolour pause and lose track of time for a moment or more, then I feel that perhaps I have been able to convey something of the timelessness and healing power of nature.

Thoughts on September 11th by Jeannine Cook

The passing of years since September 11th, 2001 has brought so many changes around the world that one can scarcely put oneself back in the frame of mind of that time. I suddenly remembered a painting that I did to deal, in some measure, with my own emotions after the Twin Towers fell and so many people perished in such frightful fashion. I had loved the brashness of the Twin Towers when we lived in New York. Taking visitors up to the top of the world, as it felt, on the top viewing deck, was so utterly New York in its drama and strange combination of elegance and a technological defiance of nature.

It seems that artists dealt with these events in a multiplicity of ways, many working on sculptures and pieces some years later. I found allusions to many of them again today in Tyler Green's blog at Modern Art Notes. In some fashion, the responses had to do with the degree of connection to New York, I think, and also, of course, the degree of political involvement of each artist. Personally, I painted and drew my piece about a month after September 11th, really before the Bush administration became, in my opinion, out of touch with many of the more admirable aspects of the American Constitution.

Twin Towers (after September 11th) watercolour-graphite, Jeannine Cook artist

Twin Towers (after September 11th) watercolour-graphite, Jeannine Cook artist

As a European, I had always been very aware of the legend of Manhattan's streets being paved with gold. Purple is also the colour of deep mourning in the world I know. Violets often signify faithfulness, watchfulness and modesty. Faithfulness to duty and cause, as far as the firefighters and police and other responders were concerned, watchfulness too, and modesty, in a way, for all those people who were going about their daily business in the Twin Towers. I tried to combine these aspects with the island of Manhattan, the flight paths of the various planes and then the unimaginable debris of the fallen towers.

It was strange to pull out this painting and look at it again today, but perhaps this, of all days, is the day to do so.