After great success engaging audiences at Leeds Art Gallery, the Art Doctors (myself and Liz Stirling) were commissioned to prescribe again at the British Art Show as it tours across the country, this time to visitors at Inverleith House in Edinburgh. Next up is Norwich at the end of July and we’re just waiting to hear from Southampton later this year.
Liz and I, along with Paul Digby, are part of the Broken Arts Collective. We specialise in participatory events and workshops, and our aim with the Art Doctors is to help break down barriers to participation in contemporary art whilst gently questioning the idea that art is good for you.
In our initial consultation with visitors we ask questions like:
- How do you feel about contemporary art/art exhibitions in general?
- What kinds of exhibitions do you usually visit?
- How are you feeling today? Would you like a challenge or something more peaceful and contemplative?
- How much time do you have?
- Do you make anything yourself? Would you like some inspiration?
We then go on to prescribe a number of pieces of work for visitors to explore in more detail, based on their answers to the questions and how much time they have to explore the work.
All visitors are also given one or two prompt cards to help them contemplate their prescribed works of art, saying things like: “Would I have this in my house? If so which room?”, “What do I love about this?”, “Maybe just looking is enough?”, “But what does it mean?”. If they are feeling particularly unconfident or worried we might also prescribe a cushion or blanket to take along for comfort.
In Edinburgh we first spent some time with a couple of groups of inspiring older people from Edinburgh and Glasgow, who told us all about their responses to the exhibition and about the art they made when they met regularly in their own groups. They were all definitely of the opinion that art IS good for you.
Later in the day we were also part of Botanics Late, an event taking place across the Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh, where Inverleith House is situated. This experience was a bit more like being a real GP as the event was incredibly busy and consultation times got considerably shorter as a result. Interestingly most people being diagnosed hadn’t planned to come to the exhibition, but had been attracted to the wider event, so it was a brilliant way to introduce new people to the British Art Show. And they really enjoyed accessing the different pieces of work with an Art Doctor prescription. We had some fascinating conversations with visitors after they had acted on their prescriptions, covering subjects including the shock value of art, whether a negative response has the same value as a positive one, meaning and artist intention v audience response.
“The art doctors were an excellent addition to the evening opening as part of Botanics Late. They were able to communicate with the audience, who were there for a fun evening in the gardens, at exactly the right pitch, and as a result audience members spent longer engaging with the exhibition and considering more closely individual artworks.” Inverleith House