Just days before Christmas, local artist Eve Crandall walked into the psychiatric unit at Mount Sinai Hospital in downtown Toronto with feelings of hopelessness and thoughts of suicide clouding her mind.
The walls of the unit’s narrow hall showcased some of her artwork filled with messages of hope and colour, but as she walked past them that December day toward her acute-care bed, she firmly believed that no one would be able to help her this time.
At 63-years-old, the Toronto woman has been in and out of Mount Sinai for years after she was diagnosed over two decades ago with Bipolar II, a disorder characterized by cycles of depressive and hypomanic episodes.
She said her recent struggles with various physical ailments, including issues with her eyesight, had taken a toll on her mental health, forcing her into a deeply depressive state, and into the hospital.
“[Depression is like] you are walking through grey Jell-O, where everything feels slow and heavy and dark, and bleak and hopeless, you’re sort of fighting your way through,” Crandall told CTV News Toronto.
“Best I can do is play games on my phone and even that wears me very quickly, there is no motivation to do art, there are no ideas, nor is there the physical energy to pull things together.”
Crandall eventually did get better earlier this month after her hospital stay, and just weeks after she returned to her High Park home, she spoke to CTV News Toronto about her healing process.
It was partially due to a weekly creative expressions group, she said, that was nestled inside a small room at the end of Mount Sinai’s psychiatric unit and spearheaded as a side-project by a spiritual councillor at the hospital.
“I don’t know about everybody else but I certainly looked forward to our weekly get-together,” Crandall said. “It’s freeing, it lets you play with colour and form, just everything, and it takes you out of this world and into the art and that’s liberating, it feels good.”
Crandall said every time she returned to the hospital over the years, she always sought out spiritual councillor Christina Dashko, who had created the art group almost 20 years ago to help psychiatric patients find some peace and joy in making stuff with their own hands.
Crandall said the program would almost always force the gears in her mind to start thinking about the art material she had back at home, and what she could do with it.
“It was forward thinking, and that’s really important, if you do start making plans and thinking about the future and what you could do that’s a definitely a sign of improvement,” she said.
“I stopped thinking about all that I couldn’t do and started trying to thinking about what I could do with my [physical] limitations.”
Dashko told CTV News Toronto that while most support on the psychiatric unit is talk therapy, the program offers something a little different, something more creative.
“When someone is suffering from depression or is on this floor, any milestone is a big deal. To be able to say ‘I did something today,’ even if that something is as simple as knitting a single row, gives patients a sense of accomplishment,” Dashko said.
“I think in the greater scheme, in comparison to people doing surgery and stuff, I do very little but I think that I can offer them a space while they are here, where they are valued simply for who they are.”
The group has done everything from knitting colourful hats to creating dual portraits, which illustrate the face a person may show to the world and the one they keep inside to themselves.
She said the dual portraits sparked serious conversations last week when a patient spoke about how their interior world is sometimes filled with sadness and anger, but society, family and friends don’t want to know about that.
“People want to assume that if you are smiling that you are fine because it’s easier,” Dashko said.
“Once you take the energy to really ask how somebody is doing there’s kind of an obligation to follow through on it and most people don’t want to invest themselves.
“Here in the inpatient psychiatry we hope that people share what is really going on inside of them.”
She said the program helps build community on the unit by encouraging people to try something new, and building a connection between the members through that shared experience.
The patients on the unit suffer from various mental health challenges, including depression, bipolar disorders and schizophrenia. About four to five of the 15 patients on the unit attend the weekly program.
Crandall said she would sometimes come to the program just to watch others making art if the task was something she couldn’t do because of her blurry vision. She said it helped her feel less isolated.
She said she loved watching people, who have never done art before, develop passion for their project.
“I stay the whole time and just sit and enjoy the vibe,” she said. “They [the patients] get into it, they’re not thinking about what ails them, or why they are miserable, they just think about what they are doing, a very mindful way to be.”
“I feel like it connects me to them because I understand it and I experience that myself, and it gives us a connection, something in common.”
Crandall said she didn’t care what they were doing during the group, but that she just enjoyed the fact that there was an opportunity to do something.
“You feel like you know someone a little better when you are there, people start saying hello to each other in the hallways,” she said.
“It certainly made a difference to my mood, I just felt more connected to people, I start talking to them … not very serious conversations with people but just conversation, just connecting with each other so you are not alone.
“The feeling of isolation is very common, and if you can somehow break that feeling and reconnect with the world it brings you forward, it’s healing. I think it’s important for that.”
Crandall said she now paints at her home and at Workman Arts, a mental health and art organization in Toronto that will showcase her art in their exhibition in March.
She said one of her favourite pieces she ever made is a portrait filled with invalidating statements. She said the piece was inspired by her annoyance of people who advise her to “think more positively.”
“It makes me crazy, it puts pressure on people, it just dismisses what they are thinking and feeling, [but] this how I’m thinking and this is how I am feeling, maybe if you just acknowledge it, it would help.”
COLUMN: Is it still ‘art’ with artificial intelligence?
I’m terrible at making art.
I probably have the artistic ability of a five-year-old, drawing stick men and the like, but I can usually colour within the lines in a colouring book, so I’m not completely without talent.
My wife, on the other hand, is quite a creative artist and I envy what she can make every day.
However, being a photographer helps me feel a little better about myself when it comes to creating art. I usually know what I want to capture and how I want to capture it when I pick up my camera.
I also know that I have a wild imagination. If only I could express that somehow, because making photos is almost always about capturing the real world and not the make-believe that resides in my head.
And then I noticed a friend posting these fantastical images on social media that looked too good to be true, worlds that could only have come from an imagination like my own. The characters and scenes that he had made were so true-to-life that it was hard to dismiss it sometimes as completely make-believe.
That was my first introduction to AI art — pictures that are generated through artificial intelligence (AI) software. Basically, digital images created out of thin air from a text prompt.
The user — or “artist” — types in a description of a scene that they wish to create, using as many or as little descriptive words as desired, and the software then builds that scene using an algorithm based on formulaic algebra. And within minutes … voila! You are presented with a piece of “art” that was created by machine learning.
The computer algorithms are written to “learn” a specific aesthetic by analyzing countless thousands of images across the internet, and the algorithm tries to generate a completely new image that adheres to the aesthetics it has learned.
Using this new technology has been a wildly entertaining rabbit hole I’ve fallen into, and it can be addictive for some who have a bit of time and an endless imagination.
But is it really art?
This is a question that researchers and artists alike have been wrestling with for years.
I do see it as an art form, as the algorithms and the computing power could be interpreted as being no different than the tools a traditional artist uses, such as a canvas, brush and paints.
The art is just in a different physical form, and what is driving the results in both the case of the painter and the person like myself using a computer, is the imagination of that person.
This isn’t a new argument. Decades ago, the same was said about the use of PhotoShop to create and alter images, and since that time graphic art has mostly become the byproduct of algorithms used by software.
I do feel bad for graphic artists, though, as AI art will probably become so commonplace, that it will do away with a large chunk of the industry, as clients will be generating their own artwork to create advertisements, event posters and other media that was once the domain of talented and experienced artisans.
There are upsides, of course. Musicians, many of whom struggle financially in our new economy, can now create their own record album covers and posters to promote their shows.
Artists themselves can use the technology to physically map out a design or vibe of what they see in their head even before picking up a paint brush or pencil.
And, of course, the “artistically handicapped” people like myself can endlessly express themselves without worry about their inabilities to harness the hand-eye co-ordination required to accurately transfer thought to canvas.
Now excuse me while I get back to creating my steampunk Star Wars characters and disco Muppets.
Kevin Lamb is a local photojournalist whose work often appears on BarrieToday.
Russians Systematically Loot Art, Ancient Relics From Ukraine’s Cultural Sites
Russians packed it all onto trucks before fleeing the city last month.
“Their plan was to destroy our history,” said Olena Yeremenko, the museum’s secretary, “and say there was only Russian history here.”
The Russian retreat from Kherson has revealed a systemic attack on expressions of Ukrainian culture, say Ukrainian officials.
At the art museum, thousands of works were stolen, including all the paintings by Ukrainian artists. The director of the city’s philharmonic was killed and the local theater director briefly detained. Statues were pulled from their pedestals and brought to territory that Moscow more firmly controlled, before the last Russian troops slipped east across the Dnipro River out of Kherson on Nov. 10.
The looting is part of a wider effort to destroy any Ukrainian identity that distinguishes the country from Russia.
More than 200 Ukrainian cultural sites have been partially or completely destroyed, according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. In occupied parts of the country, residents say, Ukrainian flags are banned. Wearing a vyshyvanka—a traditional Ukrainian woven shirt—can lead to detention. Books in Ukrainian are being pulled from school shelves and tossed out.
“Our culture and our language are on the front lines,” Oleksandr Tkachenko, the Ukrainian culture minister, said on Nov. 9, which the country celebrates as the day of Ukrainian language.
Russian officials didn’t respond to requests for comment, but have said publicly that they were taking both civilians and cultural artifacts from the city to protect them from Ukrainian attacks.
Russian troops began showing up at cultural sites in Kherson in late October, as the region’s Moscow-appointed government was relocating to east of the Dnipro River. At the end of the month, a group of about 10 soldiers arrived at St. Catherine’s Cathedral, where the coffin of Grigory Potemkin lay in a crypt beneath the floor, said Ilya Bologa, a priest at the cathedral.
An 18th-century statesman, Potemkin is generally credited with founding Kherson and Odessa as his lover, Russian Empress Catherine the Great, was expanding the empire south. Since his death in 1791, he has become a hero to many Russians nostalgic for imperial times. His grave has also been repeatedly dug up, often in the hopes of proving that the remains are truly his, which some locals still doubt.
The Russian soldiers picked up the wooden coffin that held Potemkin’s bones, hauled it up the thin, dim staircase, and loaded it into a van, Mr. Bologa said.
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Volodymyr Saldo, head of the Moscow-appointed administration in the Kherson region, told Russian television the bones had been brought east across the river to keep them safe.
At the same time, Russian troops were grabbing anything of value they could find on their way out of the city. Electronics stores, garages and storage lockers were pillaged, according to Kherson residents. A raccoon was taken from the local zoo; a video later posted on social media shows it biting Mr. Saldo’s finger.
The looting of cultural sites, however, was more methodical.
On Nov. 1, the Russian-installed head of the Kherson Art Museum ordered Hanna Skrypka, a Ukrainian employee, to come to the museum. When she arrived, she found 10 people in civilian clothes who introduced themselves as workers from Russian museums.
Ms. Skrypka said she spent the next 36 hours trapped in the museum, barred from leaving until the Russians had packed up and taken away everything in the collection.
She said the Russian workers told her they were evacuating the art to save it from the approaching Ukrainian army. “Otherwise, they’ll destroy everything,” she recalled them telling her.
The museum workers tried to pack the works carefully. But 30 more men with no apparent expertise were carrying the pieces out—sometimes passing them one to another in a line. Ms. Skrypka said many pieces were mishandled and likely damaged. She saw charcoal drawings smeared by their fingers.
“I think we’ll lose some of those forever,” she said.
Of the museum’s 13,500 pieces, Ms. Skrypka said, at least 10,000 were taken. Most of the sculptures remained, minus some of the most valuable ones; some paintings too big to fit through the front door were also left behind. The local religious icons were gone. The room that once held paintings by artists from Ukraine and other post-Soviet countries was completely bare.
“Obviously, they stole our Ukrainian past,” Ms. Skrypka said. The museum’s Ukrainian director, who fled Kherson in May, last week met with representatives of Unesco about the loss.
The museum was damaged last week, as Russian forces shelled Kherson from across the river. “What they did not steal, they destroy,” Mr. Tkachenko, the culture minister, wrote on Telegram, along with a picture of the museum.
Across the street, at the Kherson Regional Museum, many of the staff collaborated with the Russians, according to Ms. Yeremenko, the secretary. She was dismissed from the job in May, she said, after insulting the Russian army.
The staff that collaborated fled in October, Ms. Yeremenko said. On Oct. 24, two trucks showed up at the museum and about 50 men began loading artifacts into them.
The collection on the area’s natural history—with displays of taxidermied animals native to the region—was left mostly untouched. The Soviet-era displays also mostly survived, apart from some war medals and guns.
But rooms showing artifacts from before the Russian empire—including from ancient Greek settlements in the area—were picked clean. Documents from the city’s founding are now gone. A few stone pillars too heavy to carry easily remain, as does a cannon, which the Russians wheeled into a hallway but didn’t get out the door.
Since its founding in 1890, the museum had amassed a collection of 18,000 items. Ms. Yeremenko said that so far she had only inventoried the weapons collection; some 90% of it had been taken.
“During all those years, we collected these items,” she said. “They took it all.”
Write to Ian Lovett at email@example.com
Diplo ‘Wins’ Art Basel Miami by Topping ATM’s Leaderboard
Photo: Thaddaeus McAdams/Getty Images for Ocean Drive
Diplo has about $3 mil in the bank, FYI. The celebrity DJ who once streamed Sophie Turner’s wedding to Joe Jonas (remember that?) claimed to have “won” Miami Art Basel this year. One of the most talked-about pieces at the annual art fair is an ATM that posts your picture and bank balance if you use it. The ATM has a leaderboard, which Diplo topped on December 2. At the time he posted his “high score” on social media, Diplo had $3,004,913.06 in his account. So we know his cash assets, but do we know if he’s in on the joke? This piece is from Brooklyn art collective MSCHF, who are known for their trolly stunt art. “ATM Leaderboard is an extremely literal distillation of wealth-flaunting impulses,” MSCHF co-founder Daniel Greenberg said on NPR. “From its conception, we had mentally earmarked this work for a location like Miami Basel, a place where there is a dense concentration of people renting Lamborghinis and wearing Rolexes.” The piece is goofing on ostentatious displays of wealth, Diplo. Having the most ostentatious display isn’t the flex you think it is. The ATM was a collab between MSCHF and the gallery Perrotin. They had the banana duct taped to the wall, to give some more context on where everyone involved stands on the art vs. prank spectrum.
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