Mike White is an old friend who has made a huge contribution to the field of arts and health, in practice, research and writing. Illness has recently brought him into a different contact with medical services and he has written a moving piece about the experience, for the Centre for Medical Humanities blog.
Mike was one of those who worked to bring The Angel of the North to Gateshead, a process of long community engagement that is rarely appreciated by the sculpture’s many imitators. One small element of that was the gift of a series of photographs documenting the making of the angel to Gateshead’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital, where Mike is now receiving treatment. It is the sight of those images, when viewed from another perspective, that he writes about.
It’s a reminder, if any were needed, that all these ideas about people’s experience of art are, when they are true, connected to everything that makes our lives matter. Behind the blether of policy, ideology and opinion, the arguments in parliament and the media, there is life and death, love and pain and courage, the everyday lives people lead in the hope of making a difference.
Angels have become oddly popular in recent years, appearing in all sorts of places and contexts as rather ambiguous symbols of hope or spirituality in a culture that has lost much of its religious faith. This trend has often seemed close to sentimentality—what I think James Joyce describes somewhere as ‘unearned emotion’. But art walks the border between sentiment and sentimentality, true and false feeling, and the risk of falling on the wrong side of it is worth taking because it’s so valuable to be on the right side. So here’s an example I came across recently, from the great Australian artist, Michael Leunig, that for me at least does just that.