Art Is Everywhere
So there we were, my brother-in-law Dave and I, sitting in the waiting room of the cancer treatment center while nurses were preparing my sister Jennie’s chemotherapy infusion. It would be a few moments before we could return to the room and sit with her for her six hour session.
A young volunteer walked in and began her task for the morning, armed with a bouquet of easels and a set of 24” by 18” laminated posters. She muttered as she struggled to make the easel’s leg behave, and I said how it had a mind of its own. She said, “Oh, you’re an artist?” and continued by balancing the first poster.
The image showed a predominantly dark blue painting with two white abstract figures floating over a multi-colored circle. One figure had lines breaking out of its chest and the other, out of its head. The accompanying text was written by a man who told about his feelings when he learned that his wife had brain cancer.
The woman finished and showed us a few more to come. She set up the next easel and picked another from the pile. “This one’s so ugly that I don’t think I’ll even put it up. The other volunteers think that, too.”
My brother-in-law watched me stiffen. He said apologetically to me, “You like it because it’s abstract.” I had to continue though. “Actually, it’s one of the best I’ve seen so far.”
The painting was very simple: an outline of a woman lying down, sprawled out actually. She was floating on a light brown featureless background. Painted with a cold, cold blue, a large boulder-like shape was crushing her left chest. Breast cancer, I guessed? The author’s text confirmed it.
We were joined by a second volunteer, carrying more easels and posters. “This woman likes this one, and she is an artist.”
I said, “Yes, I do. But you might want to Google an artist by the name of Milton Avery and then come back to look at this again.” Later, I wished I had mentioned Henri Matisse’s “Jazz” cutouts, but that might have been pushing too much of “the teachable moment.”
Their response to my suggestion did not encourage me to spell out M-I-L-T-O-N A-V-E-R-Y or jot it down on a piece of paper and offer it to them. I really wanted them to reconsider and appreciate the powerful image “so ugly” that it almost did not get displayed. My small victory for the day was that it was there.
The second volunteer saw the opportunity to have her teachable moment and brought me a brochure explaining Oncology on Canvas exhibits [www.LillyOncologyOnCanvas.com]. This year’s deadline had just passed, but given the experience our family is having right now, images are now simmering in my brain for next year’s program.