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Photo: Canwood Gallery
An art lover in Herefordshire, England, has turned a cow shed and an old tractor barn into an elegant gallery and event locale.

I love reading about something old getting a new lease on life and serving a completely different purpose. On this farm, workaday buildings were creatively adapted for an art gallery.

Vanessa Thrope writes at the Guardian, “A cow shed and an old tractor barn in rural Herefordshire are not where most people would go in search of the avant garde or the latest in abstract painting. But retired farmer Stephen Dale is challenging the assumption that modern art is best appreciated by city dwellers.

“A run of exhibitions staged by the 74-year-old at the free public art gallery he set up two years ago in Checkley, near Hereford, have now drawn big names from the art world and proved the scale of an appetite for the unexpected in the countryside.

“Canwood Gallery and Sculpture Park, built by Dale on arable land he once farmed, is opening a show of previously unseen paintings by the veteran Royal Academician Anthony Whishaw. The exhibition, Experiences of Nature, also features the work of Whishaw’s late wife, the artist Jean Gibson, as well as a sculpture by her famous former pupil, Nicole Farhi.

“Dale’s unusual, charitable plan to create a gallery in an area of outstanding natural beauty was financed by the sale of much of his land. The farmer’s strong feeling for unconventional art emerged more than 40 years ago, while he was undergoing a difficult and long round of experimental treatments for leukaemia in the 1970s.

“Travelling down to London to take part in a series of drug trials at St Bartholomew’s hospital, Dale entertained himself in his free time with visits to art galleries. An early trip to see Carl Andre’s notorious arrangement of bricks, Equivalent VIII, at the Tate changed his life. A passion for modern art was born. ‘It may sound strange, but the hairs on the back of my neck stood up. I guess I fell in love with the bricks,’ Dale said. …

“In Canwood’s first major exhibition last summer, Bricks in the Sticks – A Farmer’s Inspiration, Dale featured a piece made by Carl Andre himself. The American artist’s Isoclast 07 graphite bricks installation, bought by Dale at auction, stood alongside the work of other international artists. A show of Matisse prints followed, and visitors rolled in.

“ ‘Running a farm and running a gallery turn out to be equally stressful,’ said Dale. ‘I did not expect the numbers of people we have coming, nor the standard of artists.’

“While Dale aims at the sort of regional significance enjoyed by the Yorkshire Sculpture Park near Wakefield, he also likes the idea of the example set by former farmer and Glastonbury Festival host Michael Eavis at Worthy Farm in Somerset: ‘A festival like that for visual arts would be something.’ ” Dale gives profits from the gallery to the hospital that saved him.

Read more about the artists here.

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Photo: Emerald Necklace Conservancy
Starting August 11, five “fog sculptures” by artist Fujiko Nakaya will grace the string of Boston parks known as the Emerald Necklace until the end of October. Nakaya uses a system of pumps, pressurized hoses, and ultrafine nozzles to create her sculptures.

You can make art from almost anything, but you need an artist’s imagination to see the possibilities. I notice that in my grandchildren, who take on creative projects that seem impossible to dull adults — like making a necklace with a heavy rock and some paper. In this story, artist Fujika Nakaya saw the possibilities of fog.

As Graham Ambrose reports at the Boston Globe, “The Emerald Necklace, Boston’s 7-mile pendant of parks built in the 19th century, will soon have a new adornment: a string of artworks made from water vapor.

“This summer, artist Fujiko Nakaya will debut ‘fog sculptures’ at five sites along the Necklace. The immersive sculptures — wafting clouds of machine-made mist — will be viewable from dawn to dusk between Aug. 11 and Oct. 31. …

“Mayor Marty Walsh of Boston hailed the project, calling the Emerald Necklace ‘a crown jewel in the City of Boston’ in a statement to the Globe. ‘Similar to the intent of the Emerald Necklace, art has a connecting power, bringing together people from all different backgrounds and all different places.’ …

“Nakaya, born in Japan in 1933, calls fog ‘the most generous of mediums.’ Since 1969 she has built more than 80 fog sculptures across four continents, transforming open spaces into dreamlike landscapes with custom-designed installations. …

Fog is living and dying. It condenses and evaporates simultaneously, with dynamism and vulnerability. It is a positive and negative,” Nakaya told the Globe. …

“To create her sculptures, which emit fog in controlled intervals, Nakaya uses a patented system of pumps, pressurized hoses, and ultrafine nozzles. Computer software receives weather data and alters fog flow to suit wind speeds, dew point, temperature, and humidity.”

Read about the dramatic origins of the sponsoring conservancy at the Boston Globe, here. The Emerald Necklace was the work of landscape visionary Frederick Law Olmsted, who also created designs for New York’s Central Park, the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, and more.

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Photo: Chip Thomas, MD, Indian Health Services
“My interest in documentary photography has helped sensitize me to the living conditions and quality of life of my patient population. … To the extent that they’re comfortable with me taking photos, I use these visits as an opportunity to document their lives.” More at the artist-physician’s website, here.

You probably wouldn’t want your doctor to care more about her artwork than helping patients, but a well-rounded physician is likely to bring more depth to medicine.

Jennifer Sokolowsky writes at the Seattle Times that art is becoming part of doctors’ education at Virginia Mason Medical Center in the state of Washington. The idea is to help physicians build both their observational skills and their empathy.

“One afternoon [in June],”  Sokolowsky reports, “a group of Virginia Mason doctors huddled, discussing a man who seemed to be in pain. Instead of being in a hospital, however, the doctors were at Seattle Art Museum, peering closely at the 1930s painting ‘Morning’ by Pacific Northwest artist Morris Graves.

“The painting, showing a man lying uncomfortably on a wood floor, portrayed pain in a way that was familiar to the group. …

“ ‘I thought, “Wow, this is a man I’ve seen before in our emergency room, suffering and sick,” ‘ said Dr. Laura Saganic, a Virginia Mason resident physician.

“The discussion prompted another in the group to observe that when they see their patients, they often don’t think about the patient’s circumstances before coming to the hospital. ‘Were they lying on a hardwood floor, were they in a tent?’ Saganic said.

“Building such observational skills and empathy — so critical to the physician’s art — is one of the goals of a relatively new program that exposes doctors at Virginia Mason Medical Center to arts education at Seattle Art Museum (SAM). …

“This kind of training helps address the fact that modern medical education often focuses much more on the factual side of healing, rather than balancing that knowledge with the kind of intuition and empathy the best medical practitioners can bring. …

“One artwork on the itinerary was ‘William Forbes M.D. (Professor Forbes, the Anatomist),’ a 1905 painting by Thomas Eakins. … The discussion ranged from how an understanding of human anatomy is important to both art and medicine, to the evolution of patients’ rights. …

“After last year’s pilot program, [rheumatologist Amish Dave, who spearheads the program] said, ‘We got a lot of feedback and learned that the residents wanted to spend more time thinking about emotions.”

Wow, that statement stands out to me. It gives me hope for the world to be reminded how common it is nowadays to acknowledge the importance of emotions. That is one of the “little” things we overlook amid the barrage of headlines tending to show humanity sliding backwards. More at the Seattle Times, here.

Do tell me your stories of medical providers’ outside interests, artistic or otherwise.

Photo: Chip Thomas, MD
Navajo women with a newborn goat.

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Art: Chiura Obata
Upper Lyell Fork, near Lyell Glacier, 1930, color woodblock print. The Japanese-American artist suffered from hostility and interment but was grateful for America’s natural beauty and always gave back.

Maria Popova has an inspiring post at Brain Pickings about a Japanese-American artist who felt grateful for Yosemite and other natural beauty in his adopted country — despite experiencing cruel prejudice, discrimination, and internment.

Popova reports, “Called to art since childhood, Chiura Obata (November 18, 1885–October 6, 1975) was trained in the traditional Japanese ink and brush painting technique sumi-e from the age of seven. When his family readied him for military school at age fourteen, he ran away, left his home prefecture, and traveled four hundred miles north to Tokyo, where he apprenticed himself to a prominent painter for three years.

“Shortly before his eighteen birthday, Obata left for the United States and settled in San Francisco, working as a domestic servant while pursuing an arts education. He was soon supporting himself with illustration work for Japanese-language magazines and newspapers. But the American Dream was not on offer — instead, Obata was met with the era’s prevalent racial animosity toward Japanese immigrants. …

“Perhaps it was this anguishing disappointment with the human world, with its seething cauldron of xenophobia and racism, that made Obata turn his heart and his paintbrush to the natural world. On his first trip to the High Sierra in 1927, watching ‘beautiful flowers bloom in a stream of icy water,’ Obata wrote to his wife, Haruko:

I only feel full of gratitude. …

“By the end of the decade, his paintings had garnered considerable attention. … But neither Obata’s stature in the creative world nor his appointment as an art instructor at U.C. Berkeley protected him from the swarming hostility of the country he had made his home and the recipient of his rare gift. In December of 1941, after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, locals fired shots at the art supply store Obata and his wife owned in Berkeley. …

“By the spring, Obata was detained at one of California’s internment camps for Japanese Americans, where he founded an art school using his own funds and donations from friends at the university. Six hundred of the interned became art students and went on to produce work of such quality that it was being exhibited outside the camp by the summer. ”

More at Brain Pickings, here, where you can see other work by this wonderful artist.

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Art: Roy Lichtenstein
Masterpiece, 1962, was sold by philanthropist Agnes Gund to launch the Art for Justice Fund. 

There’s a movement in the world of philanthropy to combine the arts with social justice. In some cases, donations to arts organizations specify reaching out to poor communities and new audiences. This particular article focuses on collectors who sell art to fund causes they believe in.

Mike Scutari writes at Inside Philanthropy, “After Agnes Gund launched the $100 million Art for Justice Fund with the proceeds from the sale of Roy Lichtenstein’s ‘Masterpiece,’ I wondered if collectors represented the sleeping giants of arts philanthropy. The prognosis thus far seems promising.

“A number of founding donors to Art for Justice have committed gifts of artwork or contributions, and late last year, the fund allocated $22 million to 30 criminal justice reform groups and education and arts initiatives. Around the same time, the anonymous consignor of Jean-Michel Basquiat’s ‘Red Skull’ announced they would donate the proceeds to a nonprofit that opens new public charter schools. …

“Glenn Fuhrman and his wife Amanda partnered with Suzanne Deal Booth and The Contemporary Austin to transform the existing $100,000 Suzanne Deal Booth Art Prize, which is currently celebrating its inaugural exhibition, into one of the nation’s largest awards presented to an artist.”

Scutari notes that although the prize doesn’t require attention to social causes, sometimes a winner’s work turns out to have been strongly influenced by the issues of the day.

“Collectors have historically deferred to institutional givers to do the heavy lifting when it comes to traditional grantmaking and the red-hot area of activist art in particular. This is why Gund’s Art for Justice Fund is so important. It’s predicated on the idea that by selling their work, collectors can advance social justice. As Ford [Foundation] President Darren Walker noted, ‘art has meaning on a wall, but it also has meaning when it is monetized.’ …

“An open question is the extent to which the Suzanne Deal Booth / FLAG Art Foundation Prize will align with the surging fields of boosting access to the arts and promoting socially focused work. Corroborating evidence suggests it will.

“Regarding access, the Fuhrmans’ FLAG Art Foundation exhibition space has been free and open to the public since its 2008 opening. The Fuhrman family has also underwritten free admission at the Institute of Contemporary Art [in Philadelphia] annually for nearly a decade. The couple is clearly committed to eliminating financial barriers to access.

“Exemplifying its social focus, in the charged aftermath of the 2016 election, the FLAG Art Foundation curated an exhibition that focused on artists who ‘negotiate politics, tragedies, social issues, and their own perspectives’ by using the New York Times as an inspiration for their work. …

“I recently spoke with VIA Art Fund President and collector Bridgitt Evans on the state of arts philanthropy and floated the theory that collectors are the sleeping giants of arts philanthropy. [VIA means Visionary initiatives in Art. It’s located in Boston.] She concurred with this assessment. Collectors, she said, are ‘exposed to a wider variety of artists, practices, ideas, and social commentary,’ and moving forward, they will ‘direct the same passion they have to collecting to philanthropy.’ ”

Read more at Inside Philanthropy, here.

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Illustration: J.V. Aranda
The website
Vulture has a list of 100 important pages that shaped comics as an art form.

Are you into graphic novels — serious books designed like comics? I haven’t read many, but I thought Stitches: A Memoir, by David Small, was wonderful. It was a dark but insightful retelling of the artist’s childhood. A doctor friend bought copies for patients after I told her about it.

At Vulture, 12 authors came together to choose 100 memorable comic-book pages that shaped the art form. In each case, they explain their reasoning. It’s a pretty fascinating post.

“The origin story of comic books isn’t flashy. No radioactive spider bite, atomic explosion, or shadowy experiment granted the medium the sort of ability that would have allowed it to arrive on early-20th-century drugstore racks as glossy, fully formed vehicles for sophisticated entertainment. Rather, it took a steady progression over the course of more than 75 years for the form to fully understand, and then harness, its powers. When the first comics arrived on newsstands in the early 1930s, they were a cynical attempt to put old wine in new bottles by reprinting popular newspaper comic strips. Cheaply printed and barely edited, those pamphlets were not what a critic at the time would have called high art.

“Yet today, the medium is flourishing in ways its ancestors could never have imagined: … a dizzying array of what the great cartoonist Will Eisner famously termed ‘sequential art.’ And, as evidenced by the sheer number of adaptations in film, television, and even on the Broadway stage, the rest of the entertainment industry has grown wise to what fans have long known: There’s a special alchemy that comes when you tell a story with pictures. …

“We have set out to trace the evolution of American comics by looking at 100 pages that altered the course of the field’s history. We chose to focus on individual pages rather than complete works, single panels, or specific narrative moments because the page is the fundamental unit of a comic book. … When comics have moved in new directions, the pivot points come in a page.

“To assemble our list of 100, we assembled a brain trust of comics professionals, critics, historians, and journalists. Our criteria were as follows: A page had to have either changed the way creators approach making comics, or it had to expertly distill a change that had just begun. In some cases, there were multiple pages that could be used to represent a particular innovation; we’ve noted those instances. We didn’t necessarily pick the 100 best pages. …

“Some pages are notable for their written content — game-changing first appearances, brilliant narrative innovations, and so on. Some are significant because the artwork told a story in ways no one had thought to do before, and ended up being emulated — or, in some cases, outright aped. … You can click on the title of each page to open a window with a full-sized version.”

I liked the first example, the 1929 Lynd Ward spooky guy. I think Asakiyume and I saw it the Fitchburg Art Museum when we met up for the graphics exhibition some years ago.

Vulture explains, “It’s inarguable that one of the leading pioneers of modern longform graphic storytelling was Flemish illustrator Frans Masereel. Right after World War I, he created a series of ‘pictorial narratives’ without words — you may have spotted his most famous, Passionate Journey (1919), in the gift shop at your local art museum.

“Chicago-born art student Lynd Ward discovered Masereel’s work while studying printmaking in Leipzig, Germany, and was inspired to use the oldest print medium — woodblocks pressed into ink — to create something very modern: the first stand-alone graphic narrative by an American, or as he called it, a ‘novel in woodcuts.’

“Gods’ Man (1929) tells the story of a struggling artist who makes a supernatural bargain with a mysterious stranger (pictured here) for a magic brush that comes at a terrible cost. The book, composed of one woodcut illustration on each of the volume’s 139 pages, was a surprise success,”

More.

Art: Lynd Ward
Gods’ Man (1929). Always read the fine print when dealing with spooky strangers.

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Photo: MFA Boston
The results of a study on school field trips surprised the Brookings Institution researchers.

One of the messages I take from this Brookings report on student field trips is the importance of conducting research with both an open mind and a willingness to follow up on unexpected results. Another takeaway: researchers prefer to study things for which there are a lot of data available; worthwhile questions that don’t have a lot of data to work with often don’t get studied.

Jay P. Greene writes, “Most education research focuses on math and reading outcomes or educational attainment because those are the measures that the state collects and are readily available to us. Less is known about how students are doing in other subjects and whether their progress in those areas has important benefits for them and society. …

“A new experiment … examines long-term effects of students receiving multiple field trips to the Woodruff Arts Center in Atlanta. The Woodruff Arts Center houses the High Art Museum, Alliance Theater, and Atlanta Symphony, all on one campus.

“We randomly assigned 4th and 5th grade school groups to get three field trips per year – one to each of Woodruff’s arts organizations – or to a control condition in which students received a single field trip. …

“The surprising result is that students who received multiple field trips experienced significantly greater gains on their standardized test scores after the first year than did the control students. …

“The reason these results are so surprising is that previous research had suggested that arts instruction tended not to ‘transfer’ into gains in other subjects. …

“When we conducted the analysis on the effects of treatment on test scores, we expected to find no statistically significant effects, just like almost all previous rigorous research. …

“We still do not believe that arts instruction and experiences have a direct effect on math or ELA ability. We think this because the bulk of prior research tells us so, and because it is simply implausible that two extra field trips to an arts organization conveyed a significant amount of math and ELA knowledge.

“Our best guess is that test scores may have risen because the extra arts activities increased student interest and engagement in school. … Maybe arts-focused field trips do not teach math or reading, but they do make students more interested in their school that does teach math and reading. But this is just a guess. …

“The odd thing about trying to write a paper with these results to present at conferences and submit to a journal is that there is strong pressure for us to pretend like we expected our findings all along. Discussants and reviewers generally don’t want to hear that you found something you didn’t expect and don’t really know why. They want to hear a clean story about how your results make sense and follow from your theory and literature review. In short, social science favors the false appearance of confidence.”

Ah, yes. When I was at the Fed, I often wondered about such things, but as a non-economist, I knew I was out of my depth.

Read about how the researchers intend to unpack the meaning of their unexpected results with future studies, here.

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