In an abstract sense, people have always been aware that doctors and nurses are admirable professionals who deserve infinite wells of appreciation for the services they provide to their patients. However, there’s nothing like a global pandemic to remind cubicle-bound creatives and the population at large that hospital workers are the people on the front lines of a calamitous battle against an invisible, formidable enemy. Recently, New Yorkers have been taking to their balconies in the early evening to applaud for medical professionals and service workers, and in the same vein, a hashtag has recently sprung up so that arts institutions can express their gratitude for doctors and nurses: #MuseumsThankHealthHeroes.
For example, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston took to Twitter on Wednesday morning to spotlight Country Doctor, a work by the American painter Horace Pippin which depicts a rural physician fighting his way home through a punishing snowstorm. Similarly, the Art Gallery of Ontario took the opportunity to highlight A Life of Devotion to Hospital and Red Cross Work, 1918, a portrait by the artist John Wentworth Russell that shows a gentle-looking nurse seated at a table laden with fine china and drooping pink flowers.
Meanwhile, on Instagram, the Dayton Art Institute posted a photograph of a dispensary nurse working in the mid-1920s or 1930s, and the Bass Museum of Contemporary Art in Miami posted a picture of a work by Sheila Hicks comprised of “white nurses blouses piled up like an avalanche” that the artist painstakingly hand-dyed, piece by piece.
Overall, these disparate works of art show that whether it’s via abstraction or heightened realism, artwork can effectively and movingly convey the importance of medical professionals in society and highlight the multifaceted humanity of our collective experiences. A sculpture or a painting may not be able to cure a virus, but works of art have other ways of helping in a time of need.