Art Is Good for your health

Don’t you love it when the scientific community comes out with proof of something you have instinctively known all along? Most artists have experienced that delicious feeling of well being when they get into the’zone’. But now there is empirical evidence that art is good for your overall health.

Digital illustration by Lilianne Milgrom

No news to me. Anyone who has immersed themselves in a creative process can attest to a feeling of calm, of total engagement with the senses, of putting on hold life’s demands and worries. But don’t take my word for it.

Making and looking at art can even reduce doctor’s visits! C’mon guys – get yourselves off to that gallery opening! And if that’s not enough to move you,  recent studies show that Art not only holds off Alzheimer’s but creating art actually lowers stress indicators. The Experience Life article contends that “Creative types may have de-stressing down to an art. Researchers at Philadelphia’s Drexel University recruited 39 adults, ranging in age from 18 to 59, to participate in 45 minutes of art making by using clay, drawing with markers, or creating collages.

To measure cortisol levels (an indicator of stress), researchers collected saliva samples from participants before and after their creative work. The results, published in Art Therapy, noted reduced levels of the stress hormone in roughly three-quarters of the participants. I can’t help but think that being so prolific must have contributed to Picasso’s long life. What a chill dude!

Yves Manciet  Picasso in the studio

One L.A. doctor who puts her faith in the art and wellness correlation into practice is celebrated endocrinologist, Dr. Katja Van Herle. She and her husband have opened a gallery so they “could work with artists who want to engage with the community, provide a calming space for anyone to interact with art for free, and raise funds for causes we believe in—mainly, exposing more art and its effects to more people,” explains Van Herle.

Van Herle sees Denk Gallery in downtown Los Angeles as a extension of her medical practice. “Art is healing, in all of its forms—that’s what we want to communicate through DENK.”

Jungle Cities installation view, courtesy DENK Gallery

So it’s time to dust off those paintbrushes or get out the modelling clay and try to make the most of what has so far been a stressful beginning to the year following the 2016 elections…

The undefeated master

Pablo Picasso, Woman with Hat, 1961

It seems appropriate to kick off my blog for 2016 with MOMA’s astounding exhibition covering sixty years of sculpture produced by art history’s unparalleled master – Pablo Picasso. MOMA’s show features 140 magnificent examples of the master’s genius, and I don’t use the word lightly. Picasso was preternaturally prolific. His creative output defies all logic.The exhibited works include Picasso’s very first clay sculpture, a 5 inch tall seated woman, through to his last, the maquette (model) for the 50-foot sculpture that stands as one of Chicago’s most famous landmarks.

First clay sculpture
Seated Woman, 1902
Picasso chicago sculpture
Sculpture for Richard J. Daley Center, 1964

It would be perfectly understandable to expect that out of 140 sculptures on display, there might be some duds. Nope, sorry to disappoint. Not a one. Every single piece – be it delicately or crudely modeled, humorous or deadly serious, classical or cubist – channels an artist who was a true original, a fearless warrior, who put his unique mark on everything he touched. In Picasso’s hands, a bull is no longer the bull we think we know, a goose or an owl or a woman, for that matter, take on a distinctly picasso-esque persona.

Picasso’s ‘Bull’, a flat sculpture constructed of discarded wood, plywood cutouts, screws and nails
Note the bull’s framed face into which Picasso carved an enigmatic smile
A goose with legs made of forks
phallic sculpture
Head of a woman

There are several painted dolls fashioned out of buttons, string, odds and ends that Picasso made for his children. Picasso loved children and he himself possessed a spontaneous, childlike wonder that I believe is one of the reasons his work will always remain fresh and relevant.

childs toy

As playful as Picasso was, he could also be politically subversive and proved himself courageous in the face of fascism. An entire gallery was dedicated to the sculptures he created during the years he lived in Nazi-occupied Paris. Designated a ‘degenerate artist’ by the Nazis, Picasso was not only excluded from exhibiting his work, he was also prohibited from creating any sculptures out of bronze. He defied this order and surreptitiously created a number of  bronze sculptures that portray this repressive period.

‘Death’s head’ in the foreground and ‘Man with a Lamb’ behind it. The lamb struggles to escape the clutches of its captor.

Picasso sculpted with clay, plaster, metal, bronze, found objects and wooden scraps. He was known to learn the rudiments of diverse sculpting techniques from his peers and once he got the hang of it, he would turn everything he learned on its head, creating new hybrid forms of expression.

‘Head of a Woman’, painted sheet metal and wire, 1962

There are many famous sculptures in this exhibition but one small, discrete sculpture was particularly meaningful to me in that it helped me glimpse the inner workings of the artist’s mind. Picasso is best known for pioneering  Cubism, the revolutionary visual style that deconstructs an object and visually reassembles it in a manner that attempts to portray different dimensions and angles simultaneously. I always wondered how this came about. What was Picasso’s very first impetus? There, in the exhibition’s first gallery, encased in glass and propped up on a pedestal, I think I may have found my answer.

Apple, 1909

This small plaster sculpture of an apple, faceted to a point where, were it not for its title ‘Apple’,  one could easily have mistaken it for the rocky ledges and outcroppings typical of the craggy landscape surrounding the small Spanish town where Picasso sculpted this apple. I like to imagine Picasso hiking the rocky cliffs, observing the shadows cast by the sharp, jagged edges and overlaying these same principles onto the smooth, round fruit warming on the window ledge back in his studio…

As an artist, I also took heart from the fact that even Picasso – yes, Picasso – experienced rejection. The third gallery of the sprawling MOMA exhibition was dedicated to sculptural models made by Picasso for a commissioned monument for his deceased friend, the poet Apollinaire. Despite having gone back to the drawing board at least a dozen times, Picasso could never quite please the monument committee and all his ideas were ultimately rejected. I have to admit I did experience a fleeting moment of Schadenfreude…

How many artists out there still consider Picasso an inspiration? Fashion designers Viktor & Rolf have just unveiled their spring collection inspired by Picasso’s sculptures. I’d love to hear from artists and non-artists! The MOMA exhibition continues through February 7, 2016.

What happened to your face?

Pawel Sliwinski
Pawel Sliwinski

I love portraiture – painting portraits and looking at portraits. I never tire of the human face and the complex nuances that our cognitive faculties allow us to interpret. Though Picasso and Braque broke with the conventional portrait decades ago, there is a growing number of contemporary artists that are deliberately distorting, manipulating and warping and even eliminating the facial construct.

Sascha Braunig, Self-portrait
Sascha Braunig, Self-portrait
Marco Grassi
Marco Grassi

What I find interesting is that this direction is the polar opposite of what the media is feeding us. The artistic trend expresses a creative push-back against idealism and a conscious rejection of flawless complexions, perfect feature ratios, homogeneity. Artists are mutating the face to almost alien proportions and merging human and animal characteristics. 


I believe that these works also convey a sense of chaos and unrest in response to a world that appears to be falling apart and spinning out of control. Other than the intellectual drive to break the boundaries of painting, perhaps similar tensions and uncertainty in Europe prior to WWI played a role in influencing artists like Picasso to experiment with faceting and breaking up the face, where all human emotion is communicated.

And of course, digital tools have added a whole new spin to re-constructing and re-inventing the face, pixel by pixel. Perfect example is Dutch artist Tim Coster’s self-portrait (below) of which he says:”This self-portrait is about digitizing my own appearance. The next step is to upload my ghost in it so I’ll be able to live on digitally after I die”.

While musing about the direction and future of portraiture I did a small painting (3.5″ x 3.5″) of five sisters based on a photograph from the ’60’s. I used watercolor and acrylics over a print transfer of my photocopied sketch applied to Aquaboard with acrylic gel medium. Any thoughts?

'Five sisters', Lilianne Milgrom
‘Five sisters’, Lilianne Milgrom  $50

NB: Four months after writing this post, ARTSPACE MAGAZINE wrote an article about the same trend (I beat them to it!). They have put a name on this phenomenon – Figural Non-Objectivity!