The Doctors are in.
Walking into an art gallery can sometimes be a bit intimidating. But it doesn’t have to be that way. The Art Doctors are working to break down these barriers by creating a conversation about how creativity can have a positive impact on our lives. Art student Sophie Lane talks with cofounder Alison McIntyre.
SL: How did Art Doctors come about?
AM: Art Doctors started in 2015 as a tongue in cheek way to talk about whether art is good for you. [This was] off the back of a conversation with the Arts and Minds Network. Someone working for the British Art Show heard about it and thought it would be a good way of engaging people with the show.
So we had some prescription pads made up, just like the ones you’d get at the doctor’s, and we spent one day outside Leeds Art Gallery, literally accosting people off the street. We were wearing our stethoscopes and lab coats with paint splattered on, so we looked kind of silly. We asked people questions such as what sort of art they normally like, if they wanted to be challenged and how they were feeling. We then prescribed them some things to look at in the gallery.
So you prescribed specific pieces of work to look at?
Yes! Limiting people’s prescriptions to 2 or 3 pieces of work helped people to not feel overwhelmed by the whole gallery. We also had prompt cards that said things like ‘Would I have this in my house? If so, which room?’ or ‘Maybe just looking is enough’. They were to help people keep an open mind and to calm the worry of not understanding what something means.
I feel people think that you have to approach and comment on contemporary art in a certain way, but I suppose that’s really not the case...
There’s really not. We have confidence in other forms of art we enjoy such as music, books and theatre, however it doesn’t feel like there is the same certainty in contemporary art. On the bottom of all the prompt cards we put, ‘Any response is valid’. It is trying to push the idea that it doesn’t matter what your response is and you shouldn’t feel stupid if you don’t understand the work of art.
Do you think that initiatives like Art Doctors are the way forward in making it more accessible?
Definitely. It’s about engaging people and it’s about that conversation. We have moved on from always needing to have a gallery present, and moved into doing things with creativity and wellbeing. We started to work out what we could prescribe people as everyday creativity that they could take home. Showing that participating in arts and creativity is really good for your mental wellbeing. It’s about people realising the creative things they do in their lives. Sometimes you can get stuck thinking, ‘I’m not good at drawing, so I can’t do any art’. But there are so many ways you can create and make things. Cooking is a good example.
As someone who has been based in Leeds for some time, what are your thoughts on the creative scene here?
Leeds has always been really interesting because of its large grassroots DIY scene. People doing their own thing. It’s often felt like the grassroots campaigns are not getting much support, but I think there is more effort being made recently. For example, in Mabgate, MAP Charity bought the Hope House building and were supported by the council. It’s things like that that is keeping the ecology of the creative arts in Leeds healthy. It means that people doing really good work are being recognised.
It always feels like there are more things happening then I’ve got time to go and see, and that feels like a good thing! There’s always the opportunity to do things and there’s a lot of people that want to work together.
Interview by Sophie Lane