The art of dying

Charles 3 Comments

There’s an interesting piece over in the New York Times about an artist, Tobi Kahn who, when his mother lay dying, filled her hospital room with his paintings of flowers.

Out of that private, personal display for his mother, Mr. Kahn has built a body of work that aspires to bring solace, comfort, a kind of sublimity, to the end of life. It is by no means the only or even the primary work he does — for decades, he has been a protean, prolific artist in paint, sculpture and installation — and yet it has become a distinctive specialty.

In the aftermath of Ellen Kahn’s death, Mr. Kahn began asking clergy members, hospice workers and funeral directors what kind of art dying people wanted. He received both specific advice — no sharp edges, calmness, tones of blue, no sudden tonal shifts that might set off a hallucination — and more important, he recalls, a broader recommendation for “a certain sense of dignity, nothing soporific.”

As part of his own grieving process, Mr. Kahn dedicated 11 art projects to his mother’s memory. One of them involved designing a sanctuary and meditation room and decorating 18 residential rooms for a Jewish hospice in the Bronx. Many of those paintings depicted lakes, horizons and landscapes, themes to which Mr. Kahn has often returned in his end-of-life art.

Read the whole article here

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13 years ago

Beautiful idea, but, can I say, I don’t care for the paintings too much. I don’t think dreary landscapes would send me dreaming on my way. How about Monet’s primary colours and vivid dancing, or the light and stillness of a a Vermeer. Even Guernica (if I wasn’t going gently, so to speak).

Charles Cowling
13 years ago

I agree with you, Vale. I’ve tried to like his stuff but I can’t.

Still, the principle holds. It would be good to see more artists creating work for the dying.

The typical painting or reproduction (more likely) you see in an undertaker’s and, for all I know, in hospices, never has any figures in it. Why so?

I think I’d be happiest dying surrounded by seventeenth century portraits.


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