Showing 1 - 10 of 175 Visual Arts annotations

This Way Madness Lies

Jay, Mike

Last Updated: Oct-17-2017
Annotated by:
Glass, Guy

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction — Secondary Category: Visual Arts / Visual Arts

Genre: History

Summary:

This Way Madness Lies was published in partnership with London’s Wellcome Collection for the exhibition “Bedlam: The Asylum and Beyond,” which ran from September 2016 - January 2017 and was curated by Mike Jay and Bárbara Rodriguez Muñoz. It is a book that was meant to accompany the exhibition, yet which, by virtue of the substantial text and reproductions, can stand alone.  

The book traces the history of treatment of the mentally ill by following the colorful story of Bethlem Royal Hospital from its antecedents in the Middle Ages up to the present.  Its sway over the public imagination evidenced by its appearance in everything from Jacobean Drama to “Sweeney Todd,” Bedlam has truly attained archetypal status.  An archetype, yet also a real functioning hospital.  Sections of the book entitled “Madhouse,” Lunatic Asylum,” and “Mental Hospital” chronicle the facilities designed respectively during the 17th/18th, 19th, and 20th centuries, and explain how they reflect changing notions of madness in each era. 
 

The first structure was visually grand but lacked a foundation, a metaphor for what was going on inside: “a façade of care concealing a black hole of neglect” (p. 39).  It became a tourist attraction along the lines of the zoo, with nothing preventing the public from gawking at and taunting the inmates.  While its replacement gave the impression of being more functional, conditions proved equally squalid.  On the other hand, 19th-century Europe and the United States saw asylum reforms, as well as the medicalization of madness as an “illness” and the ascent of psychiatry as a branch of medicine.  Finally, in 1930, the buildings still in use in Monks Orchard, a suburb of London, were constructed.


By contrast, we learn about treatments elsewhere, most notably Geel, Belgium.  There, for centuries, as an alternative to being warehoused in psychiatric hospitals, the mentally ill have been successfully boarding with townspeople. 
 

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Xanax Rainbow

Reemtsen, Kelly

Last Updated: May-23-2017
Annotated by:
Lam, Gretl

Primary Category: Visual Arts / Sculpture

Genre: Sculpture

Summary:

Five larger-than-life pills are presented in a clean white frame. They are precisely arranged in a vertical column to form a pastel rainbow. Each pill is a different color – white, pink, green, blue, and purple – and the word “Xanax” is prominently printed into each in capital letters. The mirrored background reflects the pills and the frame, just as it reflects the viewer’s face.

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T.B., Harlem

Neel, Alice

Last Updated: Mar-01-2017
Annotated by:
Winkler, Mary

Primary Category: Visual Arts / Painting/Drawing

Genre: Painting

Summary:

A young man lies propped up on pillows, his hand pointing toward a bandaged area on his side. The composition is a powerful diagonal sweep, the body in the bed forming a triangle. At its apex, the head of the man with its mass of dark hair is haloed in the white of the pillow. His dark, glistening eyes arrest the viewer, demanding attention and implicitly evoking sympathy. Neel’s expressionism is displayed in the elongated curvature of the neck, the ears splayed out from the head to rest on the pillow, and in the eloquent gesture toward the bandage.

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T.B. Harlem

Neel, Alice

Last Updated: Mar-01-2017
Annotated by:
Teagarden, J. Russell

Primary Category: Visual Arts / Painting/Drawing

Genre: Painting

Summary:

The Alice Neel painting, T.B. Harlem, can be seen at the National Museum of Women in Arts in Washington, D.C.

We are looking at a young man who has tuberculosis (TB) and who is at home recovering from a surgical procedure designed to collapse a part of his lung that is infected. He looks sick. His presentation conveys how TB can be called “consumption.” From this picture, however, we can tell that it is not just the subject’s body that is being consumed, but also his spirit and any reservoir of hope.  

The painting appeared on the cover of the June 8, 2005 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).  In his accompanying essay, William Barclay, a pulmonary specialist, surmises that “thoracoplasty” was the surgical procedure used for this person. The procedure involves the removal of several ribs so that the soft tissue the ribs held up collapses upon the lung and closes it off. Barclay calls thoracoplasty “the most radical form of collapse treatment” at the time. He also notes how Neel captured the anatomical consequences of the procedure:
His body forms a graceful sigmoid curve, for a thoracoplasty always resulted in a thoracic scoliosis from the pull of the muscles on the side not operated on, with a compensatory cervical scoliosis in the opposite direction.  

A white wound dressing on the left side of the subject’s chest draws our attention because of its brightness and because the subject’s right hand is pointing to it. It’s not covering the surgical incision because that’s on his back. Barclay suggests that the dressing is covering a wound that opened up a track from the skin to the chest lining or to the lung (i.e., a fistula). The dressing takes the shape of a cross, which made the writer of the text accompanying the painting at the museum where it hangs wonder if we are to see the subject as a martyr in the form of Christ.

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Psychobook

Rothenstein, Julian

Last Updated: Nov-30-2016
Annotated by:
Glass, Guy

Primary Category: Literature / Literature — Secondary Category: Visual Arts /

Genre: Photographs with Commentary

Summary:

The subject of Psychobook is psychological tests, both classic tests and newly created ones. Oversized, with more pictures than text, it is truly an art book.    

Psychobook begins with an introduction by Lionel Shriver, a journalist and novelist, which proves to be a very personal indictment of psychological testing.  There follows a more even-handed historical essay by Oisin Wall, a curator at the Science Museum in London.    

The bulk of Psychobook is comprised of photographs of tests and archival material related to tests.  For example, along with intelligence tests designed to screen potential immigrants, we find images of new arrivals being tested at Ellis Island.  Likewise, we see beautifully reproduced Rorshach inkblots along with pictures of Rorshach and older inkblots that may have inspired him.
 The Thematic Apperception Test (TAT) is a projective test in which subjects respond to images with their fantasies.  Here we see the 1930s originals cut out of magazines alongside updated images especially commissioned for this volume. Each is provocative in its own way.  As an added bonus, a series of photographs of psychotherapists in their offices from the 1930s to the present is interspersed with the content on psychological testing.     

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The Sick Child

Munch, Edvard

Last Updated: Nov-08-2016
Annotated by:
Bertman, Sandra

Primary Category: Visual Arts / Painting/Drawing

Genre: Painting

Summary:

In this painting, Edvard Munch shows, as the center of attention, a stricken young girl, propped on a thick white pillow, covered with a heavy blanket, at the end of her short life. A grieving companion sits next to her, her head so deeply bowed that we can only see the top of her head, not her features. The companion is so overcome with grief that she can neither hold her head up, nor look at the dying girl. Only the young girl's haunting profile is visible, as she looks steadily toward a dark ominous drape, perhaps representing the unknown or the mystery of death. Her reddish hair appears thin, damp, and uncombed against the pillow.The two figures make contact by holding hands for comfort. The artist omits the details of fingers, and just indicates a simple connected shape for both hands. Striving for only simplified and essential forms, Munch enhanced each surface by impassioned brushstrokes, nuanced colors, and thick layers of impasto paint.

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The Sick Child

Munch, Edvard

Last Updated: Nov-08-2016
Annotated by:
Teagarden, J. Russell

Primary Category: Visual Arts / Painting/Drawing

Genre: Painting

Summary:

Edvard Munch’s painting, The Sick Child, hanging in the Tate in London, England is his fourth version of the painting. This version is done in oil on canvas and was completed in 1907. The first version was painted in 1885.  

As we come upon this painting, we quickly realize we are standing at the end of a bed intruding upon a poignant moment. In this impressionistic painting, we can discern an adolescent girl propped up in bed. She is facing an older woman sitting at her side. We don’t see this woman’s face because her chin is on her chest in a way that makes her look distraught. We can easily conclude that she is the girl’s mother and that the girl is sick, very sick.
 

When we look around the room with the view Munch gives us, we see little in the way of medical supplies or equipment. There is only a bottle on a nightstand that might be some potion and a glass of water on a dresser. Nothing more is to be done for this child. She seems to know it and so she tries to comfort the woman who is attending her. The painting reminds the viewer that often those who are dying offer comfort to the ones attending them as well.

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Little Angel

Sesow, Matt

Last Updated: Jun-28-2016
Annotated by:
Lam, Gretl

Primary Category: Visual Arts / Painting/Drawing

Genre: Painting

Summary:

Two harshly drawn figures make up this painting, an adult cradling a baby. Both figures stare out and confront the viewer with round bulging eyes. Their wide red mouths are drawn into grimaces, displaying long rows of teeth. Their bodies are pale, but are outlined roughly in black, and marked by gashes of blue, pink, and red. They stand, highlighted in yellow, against an angry and energetic backdrop of red and orange.  

A small black halo sticks out stiffly from the head of the baby, while two sharp black horns protrude from the crown of the adult. The adult’s disproportionately large thick hand presses the baby close to their body. Is this an adult or is it a monster or a devil? The viewer is left to decide. Whoever or whatever the figure is, it holds the baby in a way that is protective and menacing at the same time.

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Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey

Primary Category: Visual Arts / Painting/Drawing

Genre: Painting

Summary:

Theodor Billroth, one of the most innovative and outstanding surgeons and educators of late 19th century European medicine, is depicted in this painting at the height of fame when he was about 60 years old. Billroth, in full white beard, stands in the center of the canvas, looking away from the patient--an assistant is handing him a surgical instrument. His visage is regal, his bearing composed.Seven white-coated assistants surround the patient, who lays supine with his head elevated. The patient's head is shaved, and according to the artist's notes, the operation is a neurotomy for trigeminal neuralgia--a painful condition of the face. The patient is receiving general anesthesia by open drop method. Billroth favored a mixture of alcohol, chloroform, and ether, anticipating a modern trend to administer multiple agents in anesthesia. Billroth is also using Lister's methods of sterilization and antisepsis. Note that rubber gloves were not yet used in surgery at this time.Light from a large window to the surgeon's right bathes the operating theater with brightness. A full gallery of onlookers includes the artist on the right side of the first row, and the Duke of Bavaria, seated at the opposite end, who came to the operations and lectures for entertainment. Billroth was a celebrated teacher, and thousands came to the Allgemeines Krankenhaus, the General Hospital of the University of Vienna, to observe and study his techniques.

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Annotated by:
Lam, Gretl

Primary Category: Visual Arts / Photography

Genre: Photography

Summary:

In this series of black-and-white photographs, Hannah Wilke poses half-naked for the camera, mimicking the postures of female celebrities and models in magazines and advertisements. She is mockingly flirtatious in some images, playfully wearing a man’s tie, tousling her hair, smiling suggestively with her lips parted. In other images, her expression is cold and distant, as the viewer gazes at the sensuous curves of her neck, back, and breasts.

But there is more. Wilke has also stuck tiny chewing gum sculptures of vulvas to her body. These sculptures simultaneously confront and repel the viewer. The vulvas explicitly confront the viewer about their sexual thoughts and desires as they view photographs of a woman’s body. And the vulvas sprout from her face, back, and chest like warty or diseased growths, and causing the viewer to step back in revulsion, thus breaking their lascivious gaze.

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