1. Get the Big Picture. One of my faves is a short publication by Canadian Art Magazine titled “Collecting Guide” which is concise and easy to read through. You can find the guide HERE.
2. Educate Yourself. Take a course on the “Art Market” or “Art Collecting” at an art college or university or museum/gallery in the evenings. For example, here in Toronto, you simply can’t go wrong by enrolling in a Hughene Acheson course in Continuing Studies at OCAD. Lively, stimulating and filled with incredible opportunities – guests and meetings with local art world luminaries and private collections – you’ll be thrilled at what you are exposed to. You can read what I have said about OCAD courses HERE.
You can also watch a video or two on “The Value of Art” By Sothebys. This collection of 10 short videos touches on topics such as authenticity, provenance, size and medium offers a robust perpsective from one of the world’s leading auction houses. You can find these videos HERE.
3. Think About Your Space and Budget. Best to do this before you end up in a gallery or at an art fair. What are the advantages to thinking about “Art As Area”? You can find out HERE. Have a tape measure and a blank wall handy!
4. Think Broadly About the Benefits of Art. I love the notion that looking for art is adaptive in an evolutionary sense – we’re essentially hunting and gathering! You can read about that, and chat about it at dinner parties later, HERE.
Keep in mind that art can also be therapeutic. You can read about the dangers of blank walls HERE.
How broad are the benefits of art? Check out this short article on how blue art can help cool, HERE.
5. Read About Art While Being Entertained. Books like “Seven Days In The Art World” by Sarah Thornton are wonderful exposure to the broader art art and how it may be contextualized. More HERE.
Equally as entertaining, Toronto based Don Thompson has written a realy stimulaitng book on “The $12 Million Stuffed Shark”, more HERE.
You can read more about the author Dan Nuttall and view his works of art HERE.
For just a brief moment my body, suspended mid-leap, is doubled, my reflection in the stream’s surface a fleeting portrait of a teenaged boy trapped between the blues of sky and water. I am fleet-footed at this age, able to bound from boulder to boulder, curious about the matted bundles of driftwood, the truncated forest edges, the suspended log pathways, the coursing water both hidden and in plain sight. I feel a part of nature, a creature sensing its way along a watercourse.
The stream connects me to life – a wren nest wedged where deadfall branches interlace, robust pungent moss pressed under my palms, smoothed stones, crunching sorted gravel and sand. As if a paintbrush has been flicked, a spatter of dark olive streaks dart to where my amphibious scuffing of rocks has dislodged algae. The small green cloud drifts, all pattern, change and sustenance.
Shoulder to shoulder bleached granite sentries create a jumbled causeway of exits and impasses. I am humbled by their smoothness, their completeness, the ease of their weighted, shouldering postures, so separate from the stuff of water and so inseparable from the idea of stream. The light is emanating around me, floating above the gravel beds, glancing back from every riffle, splashing back at the world in radiating rings, mixing with the dappled streambank shade. The world, in flux, hovers between abstract and real.
Years later, far from any stream, but not so far from the Hudson River, I am standing in the Whitney Museum in New York City looking at the delightful paintings of Charles Burchfield. The show, aptly titled “Heat Waves in a Swamp: The Paintings of Charles Burchfield” is mostly watercolours. Many of them have been painted as if elements within the painting are vibrating, and the overall effect of the brushstrokes is one of a charged atmosphere. Here are my “emanations”.
Charles Burchfield’s emanations captured sound, light and the ephemerality of nature. His watercolour painting “Autumnal Fantasy” (1916-44), seems to be alive with calls of nuthatches, while the pounding light of the sun passes in crescents through the woodland clearing and between the trees. Even the holes in tree trunks seem to emote. The very substance of nature hangs precariously on the page, waiting for entropy and the eye to force their way between the vestiges of substance. Guy Davenport, writing in “Charles Burchfield’s Seasons”, suggests that “The step from Van Gogh to Willem de Kooning is a short one… that Burchfield… took in his own way, into an idiomatic calligraphy of his own devising, a sign language for radiant light, for wind, for insect song, for emanations”. Expressionistic in his treatment of light, Burchfield’s works is often described as mystical and visionary. His paintings leave me with the feeling that he is able to see a nature more alive than nature. Though he has not received as much attention as many other American painters it is worth noting that Burchfield had the distinction of being the first person to receive a one-person exhibition at the newly opened Museum of Modern Art in New York City, in 1930.
Similarly, Emily Carr’s emanations are rooted in the mystical. While Burchfield’s emanations were more discrete and identifiable, Carr’s merged in large swooping streams of colour that radiate from nature or course through the air, becoming a vital plasm in which all things are immersed. In “Edge of the Forest” (1935), the central tree seems to be the source of an emanating aura which fills the sky. In “Juice of Life” (1939) and “Blue Sky” (1936) all of nature moves together, a synchronous coalescing flow within the universe. Carr’s exposure to Christianity, particularly her upbringing with Calvinism, her experimentation with theosophy, her later reading of The Sadhu written by B. H. Streeter (about a Christian mystic from Punjab named Sadhu Sunder Singh), ultimately become layered in her approach to painting – an approach that uses radiating or coursing illumination to depict an ecstatic source of enlightenment. In Carr’s representations of nature we find a form of reconciliation, a pronouncement of the world at peace, often with a sense of calm, harmony, or joy – akin to the experience of a soul in union with a higher power.
The painting of emanations draw our attention to nature and then beyond nature, to the unknown and unseen. Life, as if subatomic, both light particle and wave, illustrating the engine, the power, the mystery that drives it all.
I often tell people that being an artist is like being a more primitive human – we tend to live in caves more commonly referred to as studios. Periodically, we step out into the world, art in tow, to bask in the light of the collective gaze.
Though few primitive humans actually lived as cave dwellers, over ninety percent of human history has been spent hunting and gathering. As hunters and gatherers the ongoing goal of the human animal has been survival and adaptation. Over evolutionary time frames the success of our species has been predicated on our ability to detect and then locate the resources that allow us to survive. Such detection has relied heavily upon our sense of vision. In terms of space allocated to the senses vision is the clear forerunner – 30% of the neurons in the brain’s cortex are dedicated to vision while touch (8%) and hearing (2%) are a distant second and third. The human animal is a species that has evolved to search. The human animal is a species that has evolved to look.
And what are we adapted to look for and thus at? Things that sustain us.
As the human animal has evolved the idea of what sustains us has broadened in direction association with our broadening culture. While “hunter and gatherer” humans travelled great distances to secure the things that sustained them, the transition to a more sedentary agrarian society meant a consolidation or concentrating of necessary resources. Think about your reaction when visiting a market – all those resources gathered in one place – and the pleasure of looking nearly synonymous with the reward of having. The invention of agriculture ensured that variables such as proximity, diversity and ease of selection became critical criteria in determining how we live. Further, it makes sense that we tend towards modes of efficiency when securing valuable resources. It seems then that we humans have a foundation built upon hunting and gathering, with a veneer of newfound appreciation for the efficiency of the marketplace.
Most animals have “search images” meaning they have evolved to have forms of visual shorthand that help them locate the things they need to survive. In a world that may seem visually confusing to us, the process of evolution has produced animals adept at spotting exactly what they require to ensure their survival. Thus for human animals a glance at the confusing tawny stubble of a fall field yields little to look at while the scanning eye of a hawk has evolved to identify the exact information required to pounce and secure prey. Animals survive by developing images of the things that will help them survive.
Enter the art fair, where hunting, gathering, and the search for images and survival collide.
But is a visit to an art fair somehow adaptive? If it is, what are we searching for? And how might it be adaptive? Do people who collect art or live in the presence of art leave behind more genes? Is there something about collecting art that connects us to our more primitive selves? What does a visit to the museum or art fair or the collecting of art or exposure to art do for the modern human being?
A visit to an art fair keeps our “sensual selves” intact, meaning that we “live in the realm of the senses” when we look at art. Such looking engages and hones our senses, particularly vision, as we move about, like our primitive selves, in search for things that sustain us. Is the act of looking at art at an art fair become a metaphor for survival? Instead of seeking the actual resources are we instead seeking representations or scenes where our basic primitive needs can be met, scenes that we are “hard wired” to appreciate? And are there other benefits at play that are also adaptive?
When we think of how humans evolved the theory of “prospect-refuge”, proposed by Jay Appleton, in “The Experience of Landcsape” (1975), proves particularly useful. This theory suggests that humans were essentially an “edge” species that inhabited the boundary where the forest met the grassland. There, our species could seek safety (refuge) in the forest while being able to seek opportunity (prospect) while looking out over open spaces. More specifically:
“1The theory thus predicts that humans are attracted to art and circumstances that have:
It further predicted that we should like spaces when:
we are at the edge, such that our back is protected (rather than the middle where we are most exposed)
we are covered, rather than open to the sky
In short, we should like everything that is optimal for survival and reproduction in the savannah. The theory says that we respond to such things in art subconsciously, and that individuals attracted to such circumstances would have stood a better chance of survival by choosing to spend time in such places. Art that puts the viewer in between prospect-dominant and refuge-dominant areas will be most appealing.”
Prospect-refuge theory seems to predict not only the kinds of spaces we might actually enjoy but also the kinds of spaces that we might like to have represented. Indeed, prospect–refuge theory seems entirely consistent with some of the most popular genres of painting, namely “landscape” and “nature” paintings. The theory is also consistent with the kinds of landscapes that are designed to be “therapeutic” for human beings. You can read more about therapeutic landscapes HERE.
Such gazing at nature and landscapes, if it enhances our chances for survival, should place us at ease, at peace with the open space, the greenswards, the falling water and plants, the animals, and the abundance of resources at hand. This sense of ease is supported by research that indicates that being in the presence of actual or virtual landscape-nature resources can prove relaxing. You can read about how landscape and nature art reduces stress HERE.
But back to evolution and adaptation and leaving more genes than your competitors: do people that experience the relaxing and therapeutic aspects of art leave behind more progeny?
One could argue that relaxation is a key variable for survival in our modern lives and one does not have to look very far in the literature to find concrete evidence that stress reduces lifespan, sex drive and quality of life.
So it seems that when we engage our senses in the act of visiting an art fair we are doing more than merely wandering amidst a deluge of images and occupying time. Instead, we are searching for images that connect us to our primal needs and simultaneously serve as resources for our contemporary selves. In our modern lives the resources we call “art” engage us in ways that are adaptive, in ways that help to relieve stress and to sustain us. Thus art and the art fair are essential to the self in both cultural and evolutionary senses.
I like to think that when modern humans, Homo sapiens, occupied caves, one of the benefits of being bi-pedal, dextrous, and a tool maker and user, was the ability to place art on their walls, through drawing. Today’s art fairs have come a long way. There are now a myriad of ways to put art on your walls, and the act of hunting and gathering art may be more essential to your survival than you know.
There are so many items that we pay for that charge by the area. The cost of a house is usually related to the number of square feet. Renting commercial space? Buying flooring? Paving a driveway? The cost will often be calculated in terms of the number of square feet or square meters. In short, area is a simple measure that can be correlated with cost. It’s easy to see how the pricing of art could follow a similar approach, particularly “two-dimensional” work like paintings.
The math is simple: take the price of the painting and divide it by the area. You can then compare the value you derived, in cost per unit area, to examples of art across a broad range of price points. For example, “affordable ready-to-hang” art costs at select retail sources are roughly as follows:
HomeSense $0.06/square inch
Winners $0.06/square inch
Ikea $0.04/square inch
The pricing of a popular Toronto artist who has been successful at marketing their work through community or artist run galleries and some retail stores in Toronto (no, it’s not me):
Toronto artist $0.77/square inch
This silkscreen, “Balsam”, by Charles Comfort, is priced at $0.825 per square inch
Here is the pricing for a Canadian artist, with an education in art (BFA, MFA), who exhibited last year at a well known and highly respected art gallery in downtown Toronto (again, not me):
Trained artist $3.23/square inch
Let’s go all out and compare all of the above to some art “super-stars” Francis Bacon and Jean-Michel Basquiat, the cost per square inch for, respectively, Three Studies of Lucian Freud and Untitled:
Francis Bacon $10,492/square inch
Jean-Michel Basquiat $22,486/square inch (info HERE).
Why think of art in these terms? For collectors who are just staring out it may be a useful starting point for organizing your thoughts around purchasing.
It’s obvious that there are many other variables that come into play. Are you a serious collector? Is it your expectation that a work of art appreciate in value over time? Are you changing your art every year? Will you gaze at the art every day or is it really about covering up that stain on the wall? Should you hire an art consultant?
Here are some of the advantages to the “art as area” approach:
From the perspective of the purchaser it allows you to establish a ballpark figure for what you might spend on a piece and to compare prices across several different artists and different paintings. If you look at the yawning empty space above your sofa for example, and feel a 36 x 48” piece of art would be ideal you know that (36 x 48” = 1728 square inches x $2 per square inch = $3456. From this point you can begin to play with the variables – How does changing the size of the piece affect your decision-making? Do you feel that your unit area prices need to go up or down to meet your budget and aesthetic goals? When you visit a gallery or art website how do the prices of paintings you like break down to cost per unit area? What do you consider to be a fair price to be charged for services rendered?
From the perspective of the artist it allows the artist a quick and surefire method for estimating the price point for their work on the spot. If you charge $5.00 per square inch and have a 10 x 10” piece of art in front of a potential collector it’s easy to do the math in you head – no running for the price sheet – 10 x 10” x $5/in2 = $500. As well, “art as area” thinking also provides a baseline for changes in prices. Had a good year? Great reviews? There is a waiting list for your work? It’s easy to take your $5.00 per square inch price and edge it up to $5.25 and relate this price increase to the aforementioned variables or the rate of inflation or increases in the price of art materials or life expenses. Feeling that your painting price point is strategically situated within the art market and defensible in terms of your efforts can provide a sense of confidence to your practice. Keep in mind that artist materials start at $0.03/square inch (e.g., wood panel) and can skyrocket upwards at an alarming rate depending upon the type of materials used.
This is just one approach and, admittedly, it’s superficial. Hidden behind any marketing and pricing strategy are living, breathing artists who create highly original and engaging works of art – and who need to make a living. Will you avoid the lower end mass marketed prints that clutter our landfills? Will you support local living artists? What would you be willing to pay to support a local living artist whose work might accrue in value? What did the artist’s materials cost and what is a fair wage for an artist who spends a month on a painting and experiences the same cost of living as you do? Thinking of art as area may be just the right starting point for your art collection.
Dan Nuttall is a Toronto Artist who charges about $1 per square inch for his paintings.
In sports, many aspects of “maleness” are underpinned by “femaleness”. Some men acknowledge these underpinnings while others eschew them. I find it hard to ignore femininity in a world of spandex, padding, cups, straps, clips and girdles. In and of themselves these design “elements” are “neutral” – materials, shapes, degrees of rigidity, support, protection and wicking. Historically, these neutral design elements have been sexualized when it comes to men thinking about of women. However, it is anathema to most men to think of them as erotic when applied to other males, especially in the locker room. In the gay world all these suspensory elements are celebrated – exploited as “hyper-male”. Many a well-swung gay fantasy has rotated around the fulcrum of a jock strap.
How is it that we fetishize in both positive and negative ways inert elements attached to human bodies? Here, in this piece, the strange attractor of flower, as pansy, draws the inquisitive bee of attraction in, offers its stigma, styles and ovaries. And releases the bee to rejoin its community.
In the male sports world I wonder if misogyny, homophobia and the failure of men to accept “feminine” attributes contributes to violence against others and shaming of the self. This art asks men to question their relationships with their “self” and the “feminine”.
These pansies are comprised of jock strap cups and hockey girdle straps. A pair, in black and white, would look great above your bed. Erotic art that honours the continuum, not just the poles. Can anyone have a convincing and comprehensive strength if they cannot accept and appreciate the full spectrum of masculine and feminine?
A gift of flowers is always appropriate, I offer these pansies to jocks.
I am so very pleased that “Pansy For Jocks 1” will be auctioned off on March 30, 2017, in support of the Aids Committee of Toronto. You can read about ACT and the amazing work they do here: http://www.actoronto.org/
SNAP! 2017 is a Contemporary Photo Competition. A juried competition for all photographers, there are cash prizes for top entries. Selected images will be included in the SNAP! 2017 silent auction, part of Toronto’s most exciting gala celebrating contemporary art photography. This year’s gala takes place March 30, 2017, at the Bram + Bluma Appel Salon at the Metro Toronto Reference LIbrary, you can read about this venue here: http://salonrentals.torontopubliclibrary.ca/about-the-refe…/
Please share this post if you have a moment to support this critical agency. ACT provides support services that empower men, women and young people living with HIV to achieve self-determination, informed decision-making, independence, and overall well-being. ACT does this through programs such as counselling, information provision, social support activities and programs that help people with HIV return to work.
For some time now I have been interested in the “level” playing field created through the use of the terms “human-animal” and “non-human animal”. Here, the level playing field is the consistent use of the term animal.
Related to this is another idea, that of hierarchy in relation to dimensions of sustainability (e.g., political, economic, social, cultural, ecological), specifically the fact that the ecological dimension or “ecology” trumps the economical dimension or “economy”. Example: you can have ecology without economy but you can’t have economy without ecology. Ecology trumps economy. Taken together the above two ideas can be combined as follows: in a finite world with ever shrinking resources allanimals will ultimately be subjected to ecological constraints, however those constraints arise.
As an artist and ecologist I see competition for space, the attributes and qualities of space, and the inputs and outputs of space as critical aspects of the global discussion about which animals and what kinds of spaces will survive. Such questions are independent of the debate about whether or not animals should be kept in captivity as, ultimately, ALL animals will face shrinking spaces, lower quality inputs (tainted food, water, air, vegetation), increased competition, and decreased access to mates (habitat fragmentation, forest destruction). The questions of “zoo” are also the questions of “planet”.
Which leads me to displaced animals in compressed life history volumes such as zoo exhibits. In a previous post on this blog, titled “The Mind Is A Zoo“, which addressed the painting shown above, I stated that the “…oneiric state of the painting provides an overarching serenity linking both the familiar and the strange. One wonders what animals dream when they are born in captivity and exposed solely to a single environment. Is there still something deep and rudimentary that can arise from a genetic or shared consciousness? Some archetypical memory?”
In other words, can a bear dream of a forest if it has never seen one? If the dreams can only be comprised of things the bear has seen and experienced in its own lifetime does that mean the bear dreams only of the exhibit space and anything it may see from it? Does containment matter if one is born into it? Or, is it possible that the collective unconscious of the bear includes the hard wired dream of a leaping salmon and outstretched paw? And if the bears disappear who will keep this dream? Where can it be stored? And if the dream disappears can it ever be dreamed again?
Links to other posts in this blog on the subject of ecological art, non-human animals, otherness, animal sensing and animals and space HERE and HERE and HERE.
Seen from the sky, the rectangular shape of Central Park in New York City looks like one big nature painting. Central Park functions like a nature painting too. Or, more accurately, both the park and the nature painting borrow from the same body of research. This research has demonstrated, over and over again, that people are restored by experiences of nature – whether real or virtual.
So here is an invitation. Today when you go home, take a tour with a question in mind: How do the walls that surround me affect me? And if I can’t get to the park, is there any kind of facsimile role for depictions of nature?
The research on this subject is expansive and, quite frankly, breathtaking in its implications. Nature can dampen road rage, nature can boost the spirits, nature can improve attention capacity.
Have a crabby friend? Get them out of doors AND get them art that they can escape into. A 2002 study lead by Andrea Taylor and her team found that people with “greener views”scored higher on tests of concentration, inhibited impulsivity, and ability to delay gratification. Want a more peaceful domestic life? Think green, think scene. Think park visits, think art that depicts nature.
There is likely another rectangular painting-like entity in your life that competes for your attention, the television. Generally, it doesn’t compare, unless you’re looking at scenes of nature and looking at such scenes produces an intermediary result – somewhere between a blank wall and a view out of a window. The medium is the message. Research indicates that when views are NOT of nature the television actually prevents you from engaging in reflection – something the world is sorely in need of these days. Art can fix that! By the way people who have a television in their bedroom have 50% less sex than those that don’t!
So, let’s recap! No blank walls. Get Art!
If you can’t get outdoors, Get Art.
If you get art, art that depicts nature is a good decision.
The exhibition “The Idea of North”, which focuses on the artwork of Group of Seven member Lawren Harris, is currently on display at the Art Gallery of Ontario.
Canada’s leading arts magazine, Canadian Art, has criticized the show for its “…erasure of Indigenous perspectives…” and the “…glaring omission of indigenous art”. As someone who has only recently discovered himself to be of indigenous descent, I often catch myself wondering about the parts of our culture and the parts of our “selves” that have been erased or lay dormant. How do we deal with the thing we knew existed but has been erased? How do we integrate new aspects of self that suddenly pop into view, disrupting the calm and composed surface of the self? Who am I now that I know I am someone else?
Acknowledgement is critical.
As I toured the exhibition I pondered additional absences. In most of Harris’s early paintings there are very few people, and in later iconic works absolutely no people. So too with animals – a few horses in earlier work, none in later iconic works. How can these paintings stand for “nature”? For “the North”? For a vision of a multi-cultural country? On the other hand: do all paintings have to include all things in order to represent an idea? Can the study of a single facet of a diamond play a role in understanding the diamond as a whole?
I have always had a quote running around in my brain which I cannot attribute to anyone and can only paraphrase at the moment: “Without animals there is no forest”. Some things, by definition, have to “include” in order to “be”.
My painting below was created in response to the exhibition “The Idea of North”, currently showing at the Art Gallery of Ontario.
In the fall of 2015 I won the Juror’s Prize at the 14TH annual Orillia Museum of Art & History’s “Carmichael Exhibition”. This national juried show asks painters to re-invent the work of the Group of Seven. No small task, as a Canadian who loves this county’s wild spaces and the work of the Group of Seven, such a task seemed entirely daunting. Winning the Juror’s Prize was a special moment for me.
Since then I have come to find a special place in my heart for Orillia, the birthplace of Franklin Carmichael, one of the painters in the Group of Seven. Visiting the Orillia Museum pf Art & History is always a real joy – diverse programming, great reach, first rate curation, you can see what’s happening at OMAH right HERE.
Following the OMAH exhibition I sat back and wondered: “What next?” And what of representation? One of the best pieces of advice I was ever given regarding finding representation was “Move towards a gallery that is moving toward you”. I interpreted this to mean that someone on the gallery side has to make some kind of foray towards the artist. It also means that the artist has to be completely open, certain that the gallery is making a move toward them, and willing to capitalize on the moment.
Do you have a website, a resume, a prepared biography and appropriately sized images at hand? I don’t consider a piece of art completed until it sits in a folder in my computer. This “piece” of art is the one that is going to march out and meet the world – primarily in the digital realm. I keep the image in an original raw form, another sized and of sufficient resolution for full display on-screen, and then a smaller version for easy dissemination via social media.
I was elated when Lee Contemporary Art(LCA) in Orillia, run by Tanya Cunnington, began with some small conversation, followed by a few emails, and then offered to represent me and my work. I was able to respond to Tanya’s requests for more information as soon as made the request.
Lee Contemporary Art exhibits emerging and mid-career artists and exhibits artwork which is “inclined towards playful, cutting edge, progressive and modern”. Artists represented by LCA include:
LCA and I have spent the last year moving towards each other, as if on a very long comfortable bench, slowly migrating towards each other until we were seated side by side. It’s been a slow and enjoyable process – I have taken the time to get to know the gallery and they have taken the time to get to know me. I admire the work of the other artists and will be humbled to be in their company.
I am pleased to invite you to view my recent work and the work of some stellar Canadian artists at at Lee Contemporary Art HERE.
For those of you who are searching for representation, take heart. Stay motivated, be open, be prepared, look for someone to join you on your bench, listen for the sounds of them moving toward you and strike up a conversation. Good luck!
Some recent “requests for submissions” for art have come from institutions delivering services in health care and mental health care. One of the institutions, providing mental health care services, comprises a rather large campus that includes multiple buildings, walkways, green spaces and roads. The roads have various names, one of them being “White Squirrel Way”.
This is in reference to a white squirrel that has been seen on the grounds. As an artist my first impulse in responding to the request for submissions was to honour this unique rodent, to exaggerate, to render magnificent the animal’s stark difference. Thus my thoughts run to a large realistic glowing plastic squirrel sculpture. Twelve feet tall. Holding a nut. Offering contrast during the fall and summer. Glowing at night. Disappearing during wintry Canadian days. Other associations jump-started in my brain. White rabbits. What it means to be different. Pink elephants. Hiding difference. Godzilla. Celebrating difference. Animals as representation or reflections of the self. Stimuli that precipitate mental health crises.
As a landscape architect who has been involved in the design of therapeutic landscapes it has been made clear to me that design in such facilities must be “evidence based design” meaning that the design must be based upon research that demonstrate positive health outcomes in relation to environmental variables (e.g., faster healing times; reduced time in facility). Nature, as positive distraction seems like a no brainer in terms of providing mental health benefits. The canopy of trees, the colourful flowers, the breeze tousling grassy expanses. And what of art in the landscape? Art placed in a patient’s healing environment (sculpture, two-dimensional art), has to be “unambiguously positive” so as not to negatively affect people.
This means that some form of representation of nature (e.g., a waterfall or lake in a landscape) is not likely to cause problems. A three-dimensional depiction of Edvard Munch’s “The Scream”, or a towering steel abstraction of the creature from “Aliens” – not such a good choice. The ambiguity of abstract art, has been suggested to be a problem, more specifically “clinically inappropriate”. So this image of a brain populated by squirrels is not appropriate.
So, nature is preferred over abstract art. In addition, harmless animals are deemed okay, but not cartoon-like images (see http://henrydomke.com/blog/2009/05/11/art-in-healthca-3/). Overall, artwork judged to be “emotionally inappropriate” is generally ambiguous, surreal or open to multiple interpretations. This “landscape” piece, hovering between abstraction and realism is currently on display at Bridgepoint Health, courtey of the Artist’s Network. More on this piece HERE.
The logic applies to sculpture as well. Most of the artwork studied in research is two-dimensional art hung on facility walls. The research also tends to dwell on viewer preference, and is not concretely linked to specific indicators of health improvement. And what of my proposed giant glowing white squirrel for a mental health facility? Harmless nature or fearsome scaled-up rodent? Does the scaling up contribute to its cartoonish quality and make interpretation ambiguous? Are changes in scale “abstraction”? What about a landscape with 30 life-sized glowing squirrels in an array on a lawn? You can read about some of my design work dealing with issues of scale HERE on page 17.
What about one single life-sized brass sculpture of a squirrel? What about the living squirrels that inhabit the same space as facility users?