Art for Our Sake

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by Jamie Hughes |

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One of the great things about living in Atlanta is that there is always something new and exciting going on in town. Sure, we have our fair share of sporting events, but on any given night, you can attend a live concert, or see a show or stand-up performance. There are fairs and festivals and neighborhood farmers markets galore. And let’s not forget art galleries and museums!

One of the best museums in town — the High Museum of Art — is always bringing in new artists and collections for folks to experience. I love spending time there, slowing down and allowing myself to enjoy the silence and space to think and contemplate great art. Last Saturday, I was able to snag a ticket to see the latest exhibit, The Obama Portraits Tour.

When these portraits were unveiled at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in February 2018, they caused quite a stir. And now that I’ve seen them myself, I can understand why. Most portraits are very similar. The subject is seated and is usually captured from the waist up. The background is usually nondescript or empty, forcing you to focus on the person being depicted, and with very few exceptions, the image captured is realistic and detailed.

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These two portraits, created by Kehinde Wiley (President Barack Obama’s artist) and Amy Sherald (First Lady Michelle Obama’s artist), push the boundaries of portraiture in a wonderful way. I sat in front of each of them for some time, taking in the details and reading about the artists’ respective styles and how they used them to capture their subjects. I was only in the special gallery for about 45 minutes, but I got a lot out of the experience.

When I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and treated with some pretty powerful steroids, I didn’t really have the energy or focus to write — my usual way of working through things. But I could sit up and focus long enough to do some art. Now, I’m no artist by any stretch of the imagination. I mostly worked with mixed media and created pieces that helped me process my feelings about the diagnosis. I remember one piece — a black box covered in wire in which a doll hung suspended with dynamite in her torso — was particularly upsetting to my grandmother.

In time, I was able to put down the paint, clay, and wood and get back to writing, but I’ll never forget that experience. Being able to say what I was feeling through an object I created (and getting a reaction from someone else, however negative it might have been) was important. It allowed me to speak freely and explore what I was feeling at the time.

Viewing the Obama portraits reminded me of the importance of self-expression and creativity as well as all the ways art can benefit those of us who live with MS.

Leo Tolstoy wrote that art “is a means of union among men, joining them together in the same feelings …” And Oscar Wilde said, “Art is the most intense mode of individualism that the world has known.”

Those two statements seem antithetical at first glance. How can something be both a unifying force, something that joins people together, as well as individualistic? But the more I think about it, it makes sense. That day in the gallery, I was taking in those portraits alone, bringing my own feelings and thoughts to bear on them. Like the artists, I was experiencing the art as an individual. However, I was standing next to others, and from time to time, one of us would comment and strike up a conversation. We’d compare our observations and learn from one another’s perspectives. It was a lovely time, being around folks with keen eyes and minds. And it brought me a great deal of pleasure.

If you can, I highly suggest making time to view some art and discuss it with others. And if you’re feeling particularly gutsy, maybe go out and create a piece or two of your own. You never know what good it’ll do you — or someone else.

Note: Multiple Sclerosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Multiple Sclerosis News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to multiple sclerosis.


nancy ungar avatar

nancy ungar

the problem that i have, as an artist, is that m.s. has so crippled me that, with only 1 working finger ,i can no longer make art. writing does not suffice.

Jamie Hughes avatar

Jamie Hughes

I'm so sorry to hear that Nancy. It must be so difficult not to be able to make art when you wish to. But thankfully, you can still experience it with your eyes. Even when I can't write, I'm thankful I'm still able to read others' words.

What about music? Do you like to sing? Maybe that would be another outlet for you?


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