For this series, local Louisiana creative types—chefs, artists, politicos, and entrepreneurs—are invited to the LSU Museum of Art to choose a work of art from its vault that both inspires them and somehow speaks to the work they do in the state.
Dr. Leone Elliott founded The Healthcare Gallery, a cutting-edge medical practice cum art gallery in Baton Rouge, in order to explore the deep ties between art and medicine. Leone told me that displaying art on the walls of his medical practice is only the beginning of his efforts to marry his interest in art with his work in medicine.
When I went into medicine, it appeared at first that I would have to give up being artistic. In medical school, you are taught that medicine is a fixed science, that it is the opposite of art. But the more I practiced medicine, the more I came to think of it as an art form. As a doctor, you meet a patient, you take a history, you do an exam, and then you put together a picture of that person; you paint them a picture of their diagnosis, of their lives. A lot of what I do with patients every day is to help them sort through their perceptions about health, about illness, and show them that if they just saw things differently, it could change their world. That is why I bring art interpretation into what I do as a doctor, because art can help teach people to see—to think—differently.
Leone chose a 2012 piece by Baton Rouge-born artist Margaret Evangeline, captivated by the way the artist took something from everyday experience and transformed it into art.
Can I tell you the truth? I had no idea the museum had anything cool. I walked in here and the whole idea of what I would pick was totally turned on its head. I saw this piece and it just spoke to me. I love industrial materials and was immediately drawn to this abstract design on sheet metal. Then, when I looked more closely, I realized that the swells and depressions in the metal were created by bullet holes—that the artist actually shot the painting—it is just amazing. Everyday, people are being shot, bullets are going into concrete, into the sides of houses, into sheet metal fences, but this artist has taken that violence and constructed a piece of art around it. Taking from the everyday, and making it into a piece of art, is what I am drawn to. Now, this flat piece of metal has happened, it has lived. The artist transformed it, and gave it a story, a meaning, a purpose.
This idea of transforming or repurposing everyday objects, Leone told me, was a big part of his childhood growing up in West Africa and is part of an ethos he now brings to his work in Baton Rouge. Growing up in a third-world country, you are forced to repurpose things, to be creative and use things in ways they were not originally meant to be used. It all boils down to resources, to survival. I am drawn to art that takes simple, everyday materials that you can find all around you and forces you to rethink their meaning and value. It can be something very simple. In life, we are constantly being asked to adapt, to repurpose things and rethink how we see the world. One of the main reasons I am a doctor is that I think the human body has this innate ability to do that—it rethinks and rehabilitates and adapts and evolves constantly. We are constantly repurposing ourselves. The thing I am still searching for, is how can we teach someone that? And, for me, art is a big part of that.