Would this artwork cry with you?
Would you introduce it to your parents?
Would you whisper “everything will be okay” to it?
Does this painting have unspoken courage?
Does it listen to achy music?
Did it have its heart broken long ago, and has been a little different ever since?
These questions are prompts intended to connect people with this artwork in a counterintuitive way. This exercise practices guided disorientation as a method of inspiring transformative thinking, a process introduced to me by my colleague, Evguenia S. Popova, PhD, OTR/L, at Rush University. If you shake up someone’s intuitive thinking process with something counterintuitive, you can help them open a previously unconsidered doorway for seeing. On the surface, asking if a painting listens to achy music may seem silly. But if one looks closely, allowing the question to set the terms by which they encounter the artwork, new truths will be revealed.
This is a tool we have used in our civic wellness programs, which are collaborations with partners in hospitals and medical schools, as well as individuals working in allied fields such as law. One thing an emergency room doctor and an Illinois judge have in common is that they both frequently come into contact with vulnerable Chicagoans from a position of expertise and authority.
Our medical students have been surprisingly good at this. When two of them, responding to the prompt, said this painting had its heart broken long ago and has been a little different ever since, I felt like I was seeing the image for the first time. My experience of the painting has been permanently altered. Permanently enhanced. The new truth is there and cannot be denied: the forlorn tree bent with disaster, lonely and weeping at the edge of a darkness it will never be free of.
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I know what it’s like to be heartbroken.
I want to be with that tree.
I want to repair its broken heart.
This is a profound example of a new kind of question unlocking valuable qualities that had existed in the painting all along. Students must then consider how they can translate this way of seeing to a patient or client. How can they unlock the truths in another person, especially someone who may not look or act like themselves?
For another exercise, we ask participants to take three minutes to write the most objective statement possible describing the image below.
Once each participant has written their statement, we put them into groups and ask them to write a new objective statement that the whole group can agree on. Most statements sound something like this: “An individual is sitting in a room that is partly dark and partly bright with a piece of furniture in it.” Or something equally broad. The vast majority of groups will avoid any kind of “feelings” language, trying with all their might to stick to neutral vocabulary that most people can get on board with. However, when they are told to stop worrying about being objective, the flood gates open and we start hearing words like “sad,” “longing,” and “lonely.” The question is: Why?
We do not attempt to answer this question definitively. Instead we discuss some of the various dynamics that contribute to our concept of objective reality and think critically about the pitfalls of those dynamics. How does implicit bias impact what we perceive as objective? What about peer pressure or the fear of looking unprofessional or of being wrong? When can we consider information gained through emotional intelligence objectively true? When does the courage of conviction come into play? And most importantly, how does all of this inform the way we interact with others, in particular those who may be in our care?
Innovative programs such as ours have proliferated along with the studies showing that engaging with the humanities increases not only observational, collaborative, and critical thinking skills, but also one’s ability to think empathically and connect thoughtfully with others, what occupational therapists call non-technical skills (NTS). Furthermore, empathic thinking is a cornerstone of anti-racist, equitable, compassionate decision-making, a crucial quality for anyone, and especially for those in medicine, law, and policing.
We are creating new civic wellness programs like these all the time. The activities and conversations we lead are inspired by conversations with our partners in the field. There is no one-size-fits-all approach, because no two groups are exactly alike. Working collaboratively with doctors, law enforcement, administrators, educators, researchers, and others allows us to learn continuously, and to develop programs that effectively contribute to the training of those unique professionals whose work has a powerful—often immediate—impact on their communities.
I’d like to leave you with one more artwork.
Does this artwork have insomnia?
Is it haunted?
Is it your soulmate?
—Sam Ramos, director of Gallery Activation, Interpretation
Read the author’s article “Why Connecting Legal and Medical Professionals to Art is Essential,” published in Hyperallergic.
Learn more about arts-based training in occupational therapy.
Author’s note: These questions are taken from a much longer list generated by myself and my colleague and spouse, Maura Flood, associate director of Creative Spaces, and published in Wicked Arts Assignments (2020) as “Who Is Your Soulmate?”
Her Art Was Once Viewed as “Obscene.” Now Martha Edelheit’s Nudes Are Finally Gaining Acclaim After Decades in Obscurity – artnet News
I am rooting for Martie Edelheit.
At the age of 91, she’s finally emerging from years of obscurity. Her mind is clear and her body agile enough to enjoy every small step of it all—a bustling opening, a post-opening dinner at the fashionable restaurant Il Buco—while leaning on a cane, or a friend’s arm. Small, fierce, outspoken, Martha Edelheit keeps pushing forward, with new 11-foot paintings and a planned return to New York City, her hometown.
I first encountered Edelheit in the context of another story, which explored the asymmetry of market acclaim for female artists based on the findings of the Burns Halperin Report.
As I wrote in December: “The overwhelming majority of women, especially women of a certain age, are ghosts as far as auction sales go. The reasons for this vary, from the market’s preference for painting over conceptual and performance art to lack of access to the gallery system to individual choices to slow artistic production during child-rearing years.”
Edelheit came to my attention because she wasn’t listed among more than 2,000 women surveyed in the report. That’s because not a single one of her works has come up for auction since she started making art some 70 years ago.
But things are changing. This week, Edelheit’s solo show “Naked City: Paintings from 1965-1980” opened at Eric Firestone Gallery in Manhattan, with prices ranging from $20,000 to $500,000. Her 1962 painting, Tattooed Lady, was a recently a star of “New York 1962-1964,” an exhibition at the Jewish Museum exploring the rise of Pop Art. A limited-edition print based on this work and priced at $2,200 just came out on Her Clique, with half of the proceeds benefiting Planned Parenthood and Doctors Without Borders. Next month Edelheit’s early abstract paintings will be part of “Action, Gesture, Paint: Women Artists and Global Abstraction 1940-70,” a survey of an overlooked generation of 81 international women artists at the Whitechapel Gallery in London.
“A lot has happened for her in the past five years,” said Eric Firestone, listing strong sales from her first exhibition in 2017, multiple museum acquisitions, scholarly texts, and upcoming institutional shows.
Edelheit’s figurative paintings still shock, irk, dazzle. The naked body is there to behold in all its glorious detail— every pubic hair, skin roll, and nipple—on a scale that succeeds in being both monumental and intimate. The models look relaxed as they lounge and recline, enveloped by verdant foliage or sumptuous fabrics. One canvas, Women in Landscape (1966-68), consists of three panels and measures almost 17 feet across.
“She’s taking gestures, poses, compositional framework from the Renaissance and redoing them around these concerns of the body and the self,” said art historian Melissa Rachleff, who included Edelheit in “Inventing Downtown: Artist-Run Galleries in New York City, 1952-1965,” at the Grey Art Gallery in New York in 2017. “When you look at her works compositionally, you see Dürer, you see Rubens, you see Botticelli.”
Edelheit said her interest in the naked body has been keen since childhood. She was one of those girls who immediately undressed and dismembered a new doll. “I was looking for genitals,” she said. “But all dolls were neutered.”
Her early works in the 1950s were abstract paintings that owed color sensibility and compositional patchwork to Michael Loew, an American artist who lived on the island of Monhegan in Maine. Edelheit and her first husband, psychoanalyst Henry Edelheit, visited Monhegan in the summers.
“We were sharing a house,” she recalled. “He had a studio on the first floor, and we were on the second floor. There was a balcony, and I would look down and watch him work. And I learned more about painting by watching him work than I learned any from any class. He was what they called back then a Neoplastic painter, a disciple of Mondrian.”
In New York, Edelheit was becoming part of the avant-garde scene, a member of the Tenth Street artist-run space and its offshoot the Reuben Gallery, where she had her first solo show in 1960. She was friends with Susan Sontag, the first person she met as a University of Chicago undergrad, and artists Carolee Schneemann and Rosalyn Drexler. Her male peers included Claes Oldenberg, Lucas Samaras, Jim Dine, Robert Rosenquist, and Allan Kaprow.
“As she befriended artists who were engaged in performance and happenings, those exchanges opened up a space of possibility for her to consider the body,” Rachleff said.
Despite her active exhibition history, Edelheit sold very little art and was rarely reviewed while “the boys all got galleries and moved uptown and into the museums,” she said.
It didn’t occur to her that this had something to do with gender because she didn’t see herself as a female artist—she simply thought of herself as an artist.
The feminist movement opened her eyes to gender discrimination. Initially reluctant to join it—she was “dragged in kicking and screaming,” she said—she became an active member.
“I was forced into it because of what was happening with women artists,” she said. “Not just me, but all the women artists I knew.”
The overt sexuality of her artworks—later dubbed “radical eroticism” by art historian Rachel Middleman—was also a complication.
In 1966, a New York Times critic spent more than two hours at her exhibition at Byron Gallery uptown only to inform the gallery owner that he “can’t review that obscene woman,” she recalled. “Charles Byron had a show in his office of a guy who did postcard-size landscapes. So, he did a review of that.”
An event that had a profound impact on Edelheit’s life and art took place in 1957, when her younger brother, Robert Ross, suffered a horrific motorcycle accident while on vacation in Sweden. He spent months in a coma and years in rehabilitation. A Korean War veteran, he was treated in U.S. military hospitals that were filled with crippled servicemen. What she saw there while looking after him found its way into her works on paper from the early 1960s.
Her “Children’s Games” series of ink drawings are filled with headless, limbless figures doing horrible things to themselves and each other. Masked amputees appear in her ink-and-watercolor works like Bird House With Baby (1962) and Dream of the Tattoo Lady (1961). The chains and masks in these works are suggestive of sadomasochism.
“I wasn’t thinking about S&M,” Edelheit said, explaining instead that “masks were a way of not having to show the emotions of the figures represented.”
The circus, which she loved as a child, was another frequent theme.
“Back then, before you walked into the circus, there was what they called the freak shows,” she remembered. “That’s where you’d see the world’s tallest man, the world’s fattest woman, a two-headed dog or a two-headed cow.”
That’s where she also first saw tattooed people.
“I was hypnotized by them,” she said. “The idea of painting your body, of marking your body forever was really a powerful image for me.”
She began exploring tattoos in earnest in 1962 with a series of “Tattoo Paintings.” She painted tattoos on mannequin hands, arms, and legs as well as in her “Back Paintings” of 1972 to 1975. Several of these works are now on view at Eric Firestone Gallery.
Tattoos were not just a decorative trope, according to Jennifer Samet, who works closely with Edelheit and organized both of her shows at the gallery.
“The paintings become this arena in which she can depict not only their bodies, but their ideas and dreams,” Samet said. “She used imagined tattoos as a way to tell those dreams.”
Edelheit spent the past 30 years in Sweden, where she moved after her first husband died and she remarried. She met her second husband, Sam Nilsson, years earlier, after her brother’s accident. A budding journalist, he would go on to become the head of Swedish public broadcasting and a prominent figure in the media and culture circles. Edelheit unexpectedly found herself in a new role, attending Nobel Prize galas and having dinners with the country’s king and queen.
“It’s like someone handed me a movie script,” she said. “All of a sudden I had a closet full of evening gowns.”
Her art had to adjust as well. She settled in a remote area on an island, with the nearest bus stop seven kilometers away. This wasn’t the kind of place where she could ask a neighbor to strip and model for her.
“I think it was Rubens who said, ‘I paint what’s in front of my nose,’” she said. “And I looked out the window and what was in front of my nose was sheep. So, I did. I’ve been working with sheep and landscape for the last umpteen years.”
She used materials she found in her environment, making canvases out of chicken wire and papier-mâché and creating a lot of wire sculptures of sheep.
Now another change is looming. Following Nilsson’s death in 2020, Edelheit wants to return to New York. She spent several months in the city coinciding with her exhibitions at the Jewish Museum and Eric Firestone.
The stay brought back the memories of all the people who used to be part of her life, the models who became her friends, the 5,000-square-foot studio at the Hotel Wales on Madison Avenue and East 92nd Street (where she paid $125 a month in rent).
Once again seeing the paintings she created in that studio has been intense.
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What to do in Burnaby in February: Art exhibition at gallery – Burnaby Now
A new exhibition at Burnaby Art Gallery is weaving conversations of beauty, race and colonialism between fine tendrils of gold and hair.
The exhibit, Ornament and Instrument, showcases the intricate and meticulous work of Vancouver-based multidisciplinary artist Karin Jones.
Jones, who was nominated last year for the prestigious Sobey Art Award for emerging Canadian artists, studies how historical narratives shape identities.
Her installation piece Worn, commissioned by the Royal Ontario Museum, features prominently: a bustled Victorian mourning dress created using braided hair extensions, surrounded by cotton bolls scattered on the floor below – some stuffed with Jones’ hair.
Her artist statement explains the mourning dress symbolizes sadness, “high culture,” the British Empire and the constraints of feminine beauty norms.
The piece “underlines African hairstyles as a craft as refined as any decorative art produced in Europe; it alludes to the invisible labour of the thousands of Africans who contributed to the wealth of the British Empire,” states Jones.
Jones has also created a new iteration of the work Freed, using an early 20th-century dress from the Burnaby Village Museum’s collection.
Jones’ expertise in jewelry and goldsmithing comes into sharp relief through “Damascene inlay work on objects such as farm tools,” as she explores the intersections of beauty and race.
The exhibition’s opening reception will be Thursday, Feb. 2 from 7 to 9 p.m.
The gallery’s opening hours are Tuesday to Friday between 10 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. and weekends between noon and 5 p.m.
When: Feb. 2 to April 16
Where: Burnaby Art Gallery (6344 Deer Lake Ave.)
Cost: $5 suggested donation
PROFILE: Christine Hager a behind-the-scenes pillar of local art
Behind every local art event and program are those who make it all happen, and one person who works hard to make Orillia’s arts community thrive is Christine Hager.
Since moving to Orillia more than 20 years ago, Hager has found herself involved in a variety of non-profit organizations in the city.
She has volunteered full-time at Couchiching Jubilee House, served as executive director of the Sharing Place Food Centre and, for the past eight years, has worked as secretary for the Orillia and District Arts Council (ODAC).
One might think Hager, given her resumé, has had a lifelong passion for non-profit work and the arts, but her involvement in Orillia’s creative scene stems from a background in business, and her artistic career is limited to her hobby of sketching horses while growing up.
“I am not an artist. I do not paint or sculpt anything … but I love art,” she told OrilliaMatters. “It’s part of your soul. Everything around you is art. People just need to open up their eyes and recognize that.”
Originally from Sudbury, the soon-to-be-70-year-old Hager comes from a background in inside sales. She spent much of her career working for mining companies.
She said her current path began through making connections with others.
“You get tapped on the shoulder by somebody, you go for coffee, people ask you something,” she said. “I moved down here around 2002, and that’s when I kind of fell into doing not-for-profit work.”
Her background in business and sales has helped Orillia’s arts scene grow. Most arts programs and events in the city need funding, after all, and that’s where Hager shines.
She recently stepped down from her position as secretary to take a role in revenue development for ODAC.
“That’s what we need right now. We need the stability to be sustainable. We can’t depend on grants. You have to have a diversified revenue stream,” she said. “I’m the best one to do that because I have the most contacts.”
Her transition to non-profit work happened smoothly, and it continues to bring her great satisfaction.
“It’s given me that sense of satisfaction that, when I tell someone I can understand how (they’re) feeling, it’s because I’ve been there, and I can empathize with what they’re going through,” she said. “One of my favourite things at the food bank was until you walk a mile in somebody’s shoes, you have no right to criticize them.
“It’s always teaching and educating the public. That’s all these positions have always been. The public needs to know the reality of not-for-profits and vulnerable people, homeless people, and hungry people — and the arts people, too. They are trying to make a living as well.”
When Hager joined ODAC in 2014, “the board was very thin,” she said, but the organization now boasts an array of opportunities for local artists, thanks to the work of Hager and others.
ODAC hosts numerous art exhibitions for members, local and county art projects, public events, and more, on top of advocating for its members and other local artists.
One new program rolled out through ODAC is its Helping Elders with Arts (HeARTS) program, which provides seniors with the chance to learn a variety of art styles, art history, and enjoy physical activity on a regular basis.
With all her work helping the local arts scene thrive, Hager — who said she enjoys Sudoku and jigsaw puzzles — does not take much downtime for herself.
She also volunteers with St. James’ Anglican Church through its Sunday breakfast program, social justice committee, and community garden.
While she hopes to eventually take a bit of a step back from her responsibilities, Hager said she loves connecting with people.
“It’s nice meeting people. I love meeting people and developing the network that I have,” she said. “That’s been one of my big things: just getting to know people, building relationships, and then finding opportunities.”
Looking to the future, she hopes to see ODAC gain a full-time staff member and become a true “umbrella” organization that provides opportunities and advocacy for all local artists.
More about ODAC can be found here.
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