Remembering my late and much-missed brother David Hobbs, who would have been 50 this week.
Think of a building with lots of paintings and sculptures in it. No, not a gallery, or a museum. Hospitals. They are a great place for showing art. And because they are stuffed with people day and night they are busier than most galleries. All those lovely long corridors of otherwise empty wall space, and people with a bit of time on their hands ready for the kind of boost in morale that medication alone can not always deliver.
For one reason and another, I have found myself in hospitals too frequently in recent years. I'm lucky in that, rather than being the inmate, I've been visiting sick friends and family, or else, more positively, in a maternity ward with Naomi and a fresh daughter. The art on display seems to have become better, and is often by well known artists. It doesn't just affect patients; it also has a great effect on visitors and staff.
Research certainly shows that anxiety and depression in patients are reduced when they are more exposed to visual art. More than that, certain post-operative patients actually left hospital an average of one day earlier when they were exposed to visual art and live music. Although we're some way off being prescribed paintings on the National Health Service, that's just the kind of result that must have hospital accountants rubbing their hands with glee. Because of this positive feedback, most hospitals make the most of art's beneficial effects. The charity Paintings in Hospitals loans works to about 250 healthcare establishments across the UK, and depends upon artists donating or loaning works of art to supplement the work it purchases. Your local hospital will almost certainly have a scheme of some kind.
The chances of making a sale at a hospital are perhaps slimmer than Keira Knightley in Lent, but there are other advantages to having your work there. One is that it is likely to be seen by more people than it would in a gallery, and many of those people would never dream of setting foot in a gallery, particularly a commercial one. And because of what they might have been experiencing, the people who see it are open to being moved in a way the artist could never have expected.
A painting hangs in my parents' home that illustrates the healing power of art in hospital. Our family had become regular visitors to an Exeter hospital where my elder brother David fought what turned out to be a losing battle with cancer. These weren't always unhappy visits. There was usually something to have a laugh about, however grim things were. And, over the years, just as we got to know the magnificent nursing staff that cared for him during his stays there, so we got to know the paintings that were on the walls that led to his ward.
The journey to the hospital to see him on the day he had lost his fight for life was, as you may well imagine, not an easy one. The landscape of our lives had changed for ever. But walking through the hospital my father — not, he would agree, an artistic man, and not given to voicing opinions on art — pointed to a framed work as we turned into the ward, and said: "I have always liked that painting." It was a painting of the River Tavy slipping through the bleak, wintry wilderness of Dartmoor, and for whatever reason, it had spoken to him.
A couple of weeks after the funeral came my father's birthday. What can you give as a present to a man who has just seen his eldest son buried? We bought him the painting he had admired, and it now hangs over our parents' fireplace. It offers a kind of healing. Not the healing we would have preferred, but healing nonetheless.