A Picture of Health: Art and the Mechanisms of Healing

January 12 — July 3, 2016
Ripin Print Gallery

A Picture of Health explores the mechanisms by which art has been perceived to bring about the health and well-being of its makers and beholders. Sacred objects touched during religious ceremonies or worn on the body have promised healing and protection. Similarly, images held in the hand and admired, or representations of sacred figures who receive petitions for renewed health, have been produced in cultures east and west since antiquity. But art objects have also provided consolation or mitigated feelings of grief, providing effective substitutes for that which is lost or distant, whether a beloved person, place, or longed-for object.

The power of visual art to affect physical healing has often been premised on its very materiality or its contact with the human body. At the same time, art’s aesthetic properties have been said to ameliorate emotional or psychological states by delighting, enrapturing, or distracting beholders. If images heal directly by these means, they also operate indirectly by providing healers, doctors, and the public with fundamental knowledge about the body. Artists have challenged or reaffirmed established ideas concerning medicine, reflecting upon the person and practices of the healer, modes of treatment, and the spaces in which healing occurs.

By manipulating stylistic, technical, and iconographical features of their work, artists have laid claim to art’s transformative powers in a multitude of ways, often aiming to achieve social and political healing together with the physical, mental, and spiritual well-being of individual beholders. A Picture of Health examines these diverse modes of healing through art from the United States, Asia, Africa, Europe and the Middle East. The exhibition is drawn from the AMAM collection and includes loans from Case Western Reserve University’s Dittrick Medical History Center and Oberlin College libraries and special collections.

This exhibition is dedicated to the memory of Emma Coleman, of Oberlin, who died in 2011 at age nineteen.  'A Picture of Health' was curated by Oberlin College Assistant Professor Christina Neilson and SUNY Buffalo State Associate Professor Frances Gage, with the assistance of Kevin R. E. Greenwood, the AMAM’s Joan L. Danforth Assistant Curator of Asian Art; Oberlin College students Miranda Cohen, Amelia Kemler, Emma Kimmel, Brenna Larson, Noah Margulis, and Lisa Yanofsky; and Buffalo State students Melissa Ellis, Pamela Koons, and Thaddeus Wieleba.

Romare Bearden (American, 1911 - 1988)
Conjur Woman, 1975
Collage with spray paint on paper
R. T. Miller Jr. Fund, 2001.3