A Collision Between Art and Healthcare: An Intellectual Expedition

by Erica M. Lehman

 

NYC ART & CULTURE 588
Professor Mata
January 24, 2017

My character and intellect is greatly influenced by medicine and science. Due to my experiences in nursing, I have gained a permanent perspective which evaluates images and situations far differently than my peers of other disciplines and professions. At times, I feel as though healthcare is all I know and see. I enrolled in a NYC Art and Culture class to challenge my intellectual being and broaden my beliefs, not only through the art we viewed but also through the experiences we had together and alone in New York City. Sometimes in life, you have to push against everything you know, everything that is comfortable and predictable and do something that is completely risky, something that may disappoint you in the end. I believe the willingness to venture into the intellectual unknown is brave and rewarding. I am not afraid of intellectual failure, but I am terrified of intellectual stagnation. My intention for this class was not to get an “A” on my transcript but to have an enriching cultural experience that rejuvenates one’s spirit and prompts new ideas in my field of study. After much reflection about this course, I was able to connect healthcare with many of the artists’ and designers’ works we viewed.

After much reflection about this course, I was able to connect healthcare with many of the artists’ and designers’ works we viewed.

The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) was our first destination. With an open mind, I browsed the many collections in the museum. The exhibit that I enjoyed the most was Frances Picabia’s collection. Picabia was an innovator; his provocative style is evident in his diversity of work.  As I admired his work, I really started to think about the title of the collection and its applicability to my life and career.  The title is “Frances Picabia: Our Heads Are Round So Our Thoughts Can Change Direction” (MoMA).  The powerful title reminds us to be more tolerant of others’ thoughts and be more open to thoughts that are unlike our own. The title is also representative of self-reinvention. Picabia constantly reinvented himself. He dabbled in all types of art. He was a writer, painter, designer, and filmmaker (MoMA). Like Picabia, I have a fear of stagnation in my career. I am not content always being the same, day in and day out. In my career, I have changed specialties three times.  I have practiced many types of nursing, all of which made me a better nurse today.  From intercity trauma hospitals to small centers, my variety of training has given me great perspective.  Pushing the limits and trying new roles in both your career and personal life will result in a learning experience that is priceless.

After visiting MoMA, we had the opportunity to attend a show at the legendary Comedy Cellar. Much to the audience’s surprise, Aziz Ansari graced us. I believe comedians have the ideal platform to draw attention to many current social issues. During his routine, Ansari spoke of injustices in reproductive health, particularly how birth control is only a “female problem.” By speaking of the disparities in women’s health, Ansari brought attention to today’s issues in women and reproductive health. As women’s healthcare is being compromised in America, Ansari may have made an audience member reevaluate their beliefs.

Pushing the limits and trying new roles in both your career and personal life will result in a learning experience that is priceless.

The following day, we toured The National September 11 Memorial Museum. I had a challenging time viewing exhibits in the museum. There were times I had to step away because I was so overwhelmed with emotion. Seeing the faces and hearing the voices of the lives lost was utterly crushing. One memorial that resonated with me was about a firefighter who was helping a wheelchair-bound person. When it was clear that they could not safely get this person out of the tower, the firefighter and another co-worker stayed with the wheelchair bound person until more help arrived.  In a final call to his family, the firefighter said, “this is who I am.” I identify with the phrase “this is who I am.”  I have missed countless holidays, weddings, social gatherings, etc. because of my chosen profession. I am a nurse; it is who I am.  Being a nurse is not about the paycheck; it is about helping someone in his or her time of need. When my patient is crashing, I do everything in my power and jurisdiction to save their life even if that means staying hours past my shift or running to and from various locations in the hospital. This is what I do, it is who I am, and I cannot imagine being any other way.

After the National September 11 Memorial Museum, we visited Aperture. I was expecting to see an exhibit with photos mounted on the wall, but to my surprise, I was greeted by pieces of art and large wooden structures. Sylvain Couzinet-Jacques exhibit called “Eden” was featured. The premise of the exhibit is inspired by a run-down home in Eden, North Carolina. At first, I was completely perplexed, but as the intern began to explain the exhibition, his vision became alive.  Couzinet-Jacques’ exhibit is unique in that all of the pieces are not his, as the collection is from various artists who visited him and the house he bought for this project.  The multiple perspectives of the house pushed the viewer to digest the gravity of “Eden.” This exhibit is representative of the multiplicity of thoughts and viewpoints in America and beyond. My interpretation of a piece of art or problematic situation may be completely different than my classmate’s or co-worker’s, but together our views are stronger and have a greater sense of meaning, just like this collection.

My interpretation of a piece of art or problematic situation may be completely different than my classmate’s or co-worker’s, but together our views are stronger and have a greater sense of meaning, just like this collection.

Exhaustion plagued the group Tuesday into Wednesday, but to my delight, the energy at Whitney was enough to refresh my tired eyes. The Whitney museum houses very edgy and thought-provoking art. As I roamed through the exhibits, one piece of work in the Human Interest exhibit really impressed me. It was a sculpture by Duane Hanson, called “Woman with Dog.”  The sculpture is so lifelike that I thought it was performance art. When examining the woman, I expected her to move from the chair. Hanson’s attention to even the most miniscule detail was incredible. The dimpling of her skin, the wrinkles on her face, and varicose veins on her legs mirror any woman of that age. Hanson knew how to replicate the human body in a way that made the viewer question if the sculpture was actually living. As a healthcare professional, I appreciate his talent for creating such anatomically correct art.  Another sculptor that should be recognized for his lifelike sculptures is Tony Mantelli. As we cross the High Line, we met a man who appeared to be sleepwalking. Mantelli’s “Sleepwalker,” appears distressed and uncomfortable. I wanted to towel his brow and offer the man a warm bed. One of the most striking features is the man’s razor burn or pseudofolliculitis barbae. Again, like Hanson, Mantelli is able to portray such a “real” sculpture; the viewer does a double take and asks, “Is that man, ok?”

That night, I had an opportunity to catch up with old college friends. It had been years since we all were together.  I look back and think, “How did so much time go by?” Six years after graduating college, it was a surreal feeling sitting down with my former roommates.  The girls remember me venturing into intercity Philadelphia wearing my ill-fitting scrubs, nervous to talk to doctors. Now, six years later, my scrubs may still be ill-fitting, but if one thing is certain, I am not afraid to speak my mind to any doctor. We were still the same girls, just a little older and wiser.

My passing thoughts about revamping prison infirmaries could come to fruition if I am determined and willing to put forth the effort, like Van Buran and her partners.

The next day started out at the Society of Illustrators, where we viewed many interesting illustrations and original Norman Rockwell’s.  The Society of Illustrators is a hidden NYC gem.   One illustration that particularly intrigued me was by Edward Kinsella, titled “Frat Star.”  It is well known that fraternities are associated with binge drinking. As an ER nurse, I have seen firsthand the effects of college students binge drinking. Many college students do not realize how risky their behavior is.  I have all too many stories of patients waking up after spending the night in the ER and not knowing how they got there. I do understand that drinking is a part of the college culture, but too many students drink themselves to an unconscious state. Life-threatening injuries, such as hypoxia due to aspiration of emesis, can occur from binge drinking. This may cause an otherwise healthy young person to be intubated and admitted to the intensive care unit. Viewing this image has prompted me to pursue an opportunity to provide education to undergraduates about unsafe drinking behaviors.

The goal is to merely create a space where basic healthcare can be delivered in an already respected part of the community. This is what we need!

I thought our night at Cooper Hewitt would be much like our other museum visits, but it was not.  My faith in America’s future was restored after attending Design Night at Cooper Hewitt. The energy at the event was effervescent. I was ecstatic to explore the museum as well as hear the keynote speaker Deanna Van Buren. To a full audience, Van Buren spoke of a concept called restorative justice and creating peacemaking spaces. She spoke of righting America’s social injustices with creativity and design. I believe our prison system is antiquated; restorative justice promotes justice in the most pure form. Van Buren and her team have created spaces that are meant for peacemaking between the offender and victim. Her talk was inspiring and rousing; she is changing the way people view justice.  Speaking to Van Buren after the talk was also rewarding, as she encouraged me to pursue my ideas about recreating prison infirmaries.  Prison infirmaries from my experience are cold, outdated, and small. My passing thoughts about revamping prison infirmaries could come to fruition if I am determined and willing to put forth the effort, like Van Buran and her partners.

The “By the People: Designing a Better America” exhibit was also very motivating.  In America, unfortunately, not everyone has access to healthcare. I see the effects of limited access to healthcare every day. Preventable and treatable conditions such as hypertension or diabetes plague Americans. Designers in Alamenda County, California have seen this problem in their community too. They proposed creating “Firehouse Clinics” in order to create more access to healthcare in low-income neighborhoods. The goal is to merely create a space where basic healthcare can be delivered in an already respected part of the community. This is what we need! With more clinics like these, Americans will have more opportunities to seek medical attention before their condition has progressed. After viewing all of the proposals in this exhibit, I felt hopeful for America.  I was renewed with new ideas for healthcare in Lancaster and America.

I feel culturally recharged and motivated to make changes in our healthcare system.

My initial trepidation about this class was surmounted by many rewarding experiences. I feel culturally recharged and motivated to make changes in our healthcare system. This class was more than just a trip to NYC; it was an inspiration for my masters’ thesis. This semester, I hope to research many of the topics such as disparities in women’s health, the dangers of binge drinking among college students, the benefits of changing specialties in nursing, and our prison systems infirmaries. All of these ideas for research were brought about because of this class. Traditionally, art and healthcare are separate entities, but this class taught me that the merger of the disciplines could result in an unexpected innovative outcome.

 


Works Cited

“By the people: Designing a better America.” Cooper Hewitt, https://www.cooperhewitt.org/channel/by-the-people/.  Accessed 18 January 2017.

“Deanna Van Buren.” Echoing Green, http://www.echoinggreen.org/fellows/deanna-van-buren. Accessed 18 January 2017.

“Frances Picabia: Our Heads Are Round So Our Thoughts Can Change.” Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), https://www.moma.org/calendar/exhibitions/1670. Accessed 18 January 2017.

“High Line Art.” Friends of the High Line, http://art.thehighline.org/. Accessed 18 January 2017.

“Human Interest: Portraits from the Whitney Collection.” Whitney Museum of American Art, http://whitney.org/Exhibitions/HumanInterest.

“Sylvain Couzinet-Jacques: Eden.” Aperture, http://aperture.org/exhibition/sylvain-couzinet-jacques-eden/. Accessed 18 January 2017.


 

Erica M. Lehman is a graduate student in the Master of Science Nursing program.