A Landscape by Tom Tartaglino at the UVA Medical Center
This summer, I have had reason to notice art in a few unlikely places around town: at the local hospitals.
Member artist at McGuffey Art Center, Lindsey Oberg, had new mixed media works on display at Martha Jefferson Hospital in June. “In the Country” by Richard Bednar and “Sightings,” a collection of photographs by Frank Feigert have been featured in the Main Hospital lobby of the UVA Medical Center for the summer months as well. In addition to the featured shows, there is also a surprising amount of artwork on permanent display there.
There was a time when hospitals were crisp, clean, immaculately sterilized, and notorious for “that hospital smell.” Nowadays, it seems that ideas in medicine are changing. Aesthetics are upheld more frequently, and there is a higher appreciation for the impact of our surroundings on our psyche and mental well-being.
There are several examples in art therapy practices where the experience of beauty and positive interactions are used to aid traditional medicine. Recently, several window washers visited Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital as superheros, bringing smiles and joy to the patients. The UVA medical center also has a group of “clowns” that volunteer on a weekly basis. “Compassionate Clowning” is meant to provide comfort and emotional support to patients and family by creating an environment that alleviates anxiety and stress. There was even a recent study in which it was found that patients undergoing surgery while music is played remain calmer and cope better during their recovery compared to patients who are operated on in silence.
It might be easy to conclude that showing art in a medical setting may have similar effects. The previous example of window washer heroes bears resemblances to happenings from the 1980′s. Art is a very broad medium of expression, and through the very crafting process itself, it can showcase, embrace or entice a huge array of emotions.
So why is it that much of the art on display at the hospitals feels like an afterthought? Obviously, our taxpayers may not want to feel as though their money is being used to fund art as opposed to medical research. However the timid patchwork curation which currently inhabits the hospital halls is a far cry from what it could be.
Even considering that as a state funded institution and hospital which must be largely non-confrontational, much of the work on display seems like an apology. Prints are stuck behind glass and unobtrusively hung behind counters. The primary display wall at the UVA medical center is a small patch of gray, hugging a corner at the entrance to the cafeteria. Here and there we find permanent pieces, a bust of Thomas Jefferson by a pillar, a large oil painting of a landscape by Tom Tartaglino adorning the wall space across from the President’s office (the only piece on the ever extending wall of a long hallway.) Some pieces are hung in honor of donors or patients. But none seem to be placed with intent, pride, or any semblance of a flourish.
It is unfortunate since so much of the work has obviously been chosen with care by some unknown person at the hospital. The paintings and sculptures are beautifully crafted. Each brushstroke vibrates with individuality. The bronze castings of heads stare thoughtfully, it is as if the artwork is begging to suddenly become more significant.
Art can, of course, be thought of as just another pretty thing to look at or to cover walls, but it doesn’t have to be that way. In the play of light and form, stories can be told, memories drawn out, dare I say, wounds could be healed.
~Rose Guterbock and Aaron MIller