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Tag Archives: Andy Warhol

The medical ethics of posthumous diagnosis of artists

The tradition of posthumous diagnosis of famous artists goes back at least to Sigmund Freud writing about Leonardo da Vinci in 1910. In his essay “Leonardo Da Vinci and a Memory of His Childhood” Freud’s psychoanalytical examination of Leonardo focused on Leonardo’s painting The Virgin and Child and St. Ann. In this examination Freud as art connoisseur and Freud as psychologist are confused and ultimately Freud’s analysis and outing of Leonardo as a “passive homosexual” is unethical.

It is not uncommon for physicians to write papers where they give a posthumous diagnosis of medical conditions in notable dead artists or other identifiable historic figures, for example, that El Greco had astigmatism. However, I would urge that both the authors and the editors of medical journals to be consider the ethics and relevance of such papers.

The publication of inaccurate posthumous diagnosis created with the authority of a physician makes for both bad art history and bad medical science. Even though there is often more information about a notable artist, due to the existence of diary, letters and their works of art, than other people the likelihood of the posthumous diagnosis being incorrect is still very high. Of course it is not just physicians who make errors in art history, everyone is going to be wrong, however, what makes the physicians errors worse is that they are not making them using anything like proper medical methodology. The only things that can be learnt from the incorrect diagnosis of breast cancer in Rembrandt’s model for Bath of Bathsheba (1654) is that paintings are not a useful diagnostic tool, something that should already be obvious.

There needs to be some guidelines for both writers and editors regarding the ethics of publishing papers containing diagnosis of famous dead artists. I propose for reasons of both accuracy and ethics that priority be given to articles that explain a diagnosis made public by the artist during their lifetime and where there is a benefit to the public in making and explaining a diagnosis. If the diagnosis was not made during the artist’s lifetime it is more than likely to be incorrect. There is the potential for a diagnosis damaging the reputation of the artist and the reputation of their art.

Is it ethical for a physician to provide an unsolicited posthumous diagnosis of medical conditions in notable artists or other identifiable historic figures that they have never examined, simply as a matter of historic conjecture, because the person is both famous and dead?

“At their strongest, confidentiality protections after death would be equal to those in force during a patient’s life. Thus, if information about a patient may be ethically disclosed during life, it likewise may be disclosed after the patient has died.” (Opinion 5.051 – Confidentiality of Medical Information Postmortem, AMA website, accessed 18/12/2015)

The AMA does lay out some ethical reasons for the disclosure of medical information postmortem. In most articles about dead artists there is a clear failure to consider both “the impact disclosure may have on the reputation of the deceased patient” and the “personal gain for the physician that may unduly influence professional obligations of confidentiality.” (Opinion 5.051) There maybe some research and educational purposes in doctors writing about famous dead artists but in examining the literature there didn’t seem to be one clear example.

As a basic guidelines for physicians writing about famous dead artists or other famous dead persons: don’t write anything that you wouldn’t write when the person was alive. Writing about a diagnosis that was made during the person’s life that the person made public themselves provided that has a public benefit. But this is not a simple matter as can be seen in “Before and After and Superman – Andy Warhol” James C. Harris, MD JAMA Psychiatry January 2014 Volume 71, Number 1 (Downloaded From: http://archpsyc.jamanetwork.com/ on 12/17/2015) Does the fact that Warhol openly discussed his childhood illness Sydenham chorea (historically known as St. Vitus dance) imply permission for further discussion of the effects of the illness on him? Is this different from an examination Warhol’s denied but widely reported use of amphetamines and cocaine? The confidence of Harris’s diagnosis that Warhol’s obsessive compulsive behaviour and hoarding an effect of Sydenham chorea ignores alternate explanations and Harris does not mention alternative explanations for Warhol’s behaviour. At what point does such discussion become inappropriate? Would making Warhol the post-child of the disease for an advertising campaign be appropriate?

These complicated cases aside lets have no more articles about El Greco’s eyesight, Richard Dadd’s mental illness or Giorgio De Chirico’s migraines. Instead let the final word be from: Bogousslavsky J “The last myth of Giorgio De Chirico: neurological art” (Front Neurol Neurosci. Epub 2010 Apr 6) who concluded that De Chirico’s art practice was “…a continuous, organized process to which organic brain dysfunction never contributed.”

(Thanks to Catherine Voutier for her assistance in the medical research.)

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Books and Milestones

Today is the anniversary of my first book launch (insert plug for Sculptures of Melbourne here). Recently I passed several other milestones. Earlier this year I posted my 1,000th blog post. And now this blog has had over 500,000 total views! Thanks to everyone for reading it. Cheers!

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The author trying to look through Andy Warhol’s eyes with a sleep mask from the Warhol/WeiWei exhibition gift shop.

I have started researching my next book about art and crime. There are many true stories at this intersection between two worlds, stories involving art thefts, art forgery, vandalism of art, vandalism that is art and criminals who do art. If you want to contact me with information about art involving crimes or crimes involving art in Australia I can keep your identity confidential.

I was able to post an early draft about courtroom sketch artists but I will not always be able to do that. I can’t blog about some of my current research into art and crime, so you will have to wait and read about it in my next book.

For this and other reasons, that I will describe as R&R (research and relaxation), I will be taking a short break from posting on this blog. I feel that I owe my regular readers a note explaining the absence of any blog posts rather than simply vanish and leave them wondering what happened. I hope to be posting my usual mix of exhibition reviews, street art notes, public sculpture history and other items about Melbourne’s visual arts culture in a little over a month.

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Andy Warhol – Ai Weiwei @ NGV

“Why do people think artists are special? It is just another job.” Andy Warhol (From A to B and Back Again, p.160)

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The pairing of Andy Warhol and Ai Weiwei at the NGV produces an exhibition with more vitality than cultic history. The art of Andy Warhol and Ai Weiwei is like social media; it is about selfies, photo of what we ate for lunch, music, videos and ideas but why is it art?

Firstly, seriously consider where you see most art and that the answer is online.

Secondly, contemporary society needs to have a big talk about popularity, in art, in politics, in religion, in consumerism… in everything but especially populism in politics, currently the most dangerous force in the world.

We need to remember the difference between being popular and a populist. Popularity is measured by how many people like you whereas populism is design to attract the uninformed and unthinking public. It is the element of design and manipulation, that aesthetic preoccupations in the populism that makes it so attractive.

Part of Andy Warhol and Ai Weiwei’s popularity is because they are not populists. They are popular because they are working for and with people, not just the majority of people but any and all people. Warhol considers the democratisation of fame, what if everyone was equally famous, fabulous and fantastic for at least 15 minutes. What if everyone could be an artist.
When Lego refusing to supply Ai Weiwei with brick for an installation on the grounds that his art is political. Ai Weiwei gots around this with an online call for donations for Lego bricks to be deposited through the partially open sun roof of a car. (Actually he used another type of brick but never let the truth get in the way of good art.) Using the internet and the public to get around officialdom is a similar strategy to Ai Weiwei’s response to the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. Online volunteers circumventing the official blocks and censorship is modelled with the many repeating plastic blocks.

“Perhaps it will be the task of an artist as detached from aesthetic preoccupations, and as intent on the energetic as Marcel Duchamp, to reconcile art and the people.” The French art critic, Guillaume Apollinaire wrote this in the final line in a short essay about Duchamp’s early paintings. In the essay Apollinaire wrote: “Duchamp has abandoned the cult of appearance” and that he “goes to the limit, and is not afraid of being criticised as esoteric or unintelligible.” (Marcel Duchamp, ed. Anne d’Harnoncourt, Kynaston McShine, Prestal, 1989, p.180)

It is hard to believe that Apollinaire could write this in Paris in 1912 before Duchamp even made his first readymade but the advent of still photography anticipated both moving images and social media. Duchamp’s two successors Andy Warhol and Ai Weiwei make clear Apollinaire’s prognostication about “abandoned the cult of appearance” and “reconcile art and the people.” Andy Warhol and Ai Weiwei are popular and like Duchamp are “not afraid of being criticised as esoteric or unintelligible.” The increase in the reproduction of images increases their display value (the number of times and places where it can be displayed) brought on in the age of digital reproduction destroys the cult of the original (the idea of a uniquely beautiful object created by special person). From the Velvet Underground rehearsing in the Factory to Ai Weiwei dancing Gangnam style aesthetic preoccupations are no long the primary considerations of the art, but its relationship with the people.

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There are some great selfie opportunities at the exhibition.


Readymade in 3 Minutes

I guess that Alan Adler retired this year. Alan Adler was the man who ran the photo booth business in Melbourne for forty years. His analogue black and white photo booths are no longer at Flinders Street Station.

Photobooth

In September 1925 in New York City on Broadway Anatol Josepho opened the first photo booth machine. (Näkki Goranin American Photo Booth (W.W. Norton & Company, 2008, New York). The photo booth was a common modern experience that inspired many people in the pre-digital world to play with portraying their identity.

My own relationship with photo booth goes back more than forty years. I was just two when I had my first photo taken in one. My parents took me to a department store in Canada and inside the automatic glass doors, next to the gum ball machines was a photo booth. It made a profound impression on my young mind. I thought: “Modern.  Everything done by machine.”

Since 1984 I have been working on a project using photo booth machines, documenting my life with a strip or two of black and white photos every year. It started fooling around in London; the machines were everywhere because a weekly tube pass required a photograph.

Mark Holsworth, 1984, London

Mark Holsworth, 1984, London

I was aware of the history of art and photo booths: the Surrealists, Francis Bacon and Andy Warhol.

Francis Bacon’s photo booth photos are reproduced in David Sylvester Interviews with Francis Bacon 1962-1979 (Oxford, 1980) (p.42).

In 1990 Warhol exhibited several hundred photo booth photos at the Robert Miller Gallery in New York. In a review of the exhibition Hilton Als wrote, “What these photographs do suggest is what gesticulating – smiling and relaxing – into the void looks like.” (Artforum March 1990)

Louis Nowra “Grins to silent screams: the influence of photo booths” Art and Australia V44 #1 2006

HatBagUmbrellaMark, 1991

I delighted the strip format, like a comic book panels, in the limitations and the errors made by the mechanical processing. What you can and can’t control. Curtain or no curtain? How do you dress and position your body with in the confines of the small booth.

The photo booth photo is always taken on the way to or from somewhere, it is a pause on a journey. You step out of the public space into a private booth, draw the curtain, insert your coins and pose for the photo before stepping out into public again to await the finished results three minutes later. I went to the photo booths at Flinders and Spencer Street Railway Stations to take photos on the way to friends, to Geelong, Bendigo.

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Now my project has come to its natural, or rather, technological end.

Lindy Percival reported on Adler and his photo booth machines two years ago in The Age.  Local artist Marty Damhuis has a blog, flyingtale about his photo booth work; I wish that I’d seen his and Nadine Allen exhibition of photo booth photos at Platform in August 2009. See photobooth.net for more about photo booths including some of the artists who have used them.

P.S. Actually the remaining black and white photo booth has simply moved a few metres further along Flinders Street station near the entrance to Platform 1.

Interior of Photo Booth at Flinders Street.

Interior of Photo Booth at Flinders Street.


Picasso Who?

Writing about the scandal of the current Picasso Museum in Paris, there are several Picasso museums around Europe, Jonathan Jones raised the question of how relevant Picasso is in contemporary art. (The Guardian “Nightmare at the Picasso Museum” 16/10/2014).

I was considered this question. For me Picasso is definitely overrated, it is not that I dislike Picasso, although mostly I prefer George Braque’s cubist work. Often Picasso’s works look like preserved relics, hastily done and looking aged before their time. Too look at it more objectively turned to my blog. After writing hundreds of post about the visual arts this blog for seven years how often have I referred to Picasso?

Only nineteen times; compare to the number of times that I’ve references to Andy Warhol (16), Salvador Dali (10), Joseph Beuys (6), Nam June Paik (4), Jackson Pollock (3) and Henri Matisse (2). I am biased and there were too many references to Marcel Duchamp, about 75, even as I restrain myself from mentioning him, to compare him to Picasso as Jones suggests.

MaxCat, Brunswick, 2009

MaxCat, Brunswick, 2009

Of the nineteen references to Picasso only twice have I written about seeing the influence of Picasso on an artist: Maxcat and Juan Davila. “Maxcat’s innovative use of lines and the sense of poetry with the bird on the figures head reminded me of Picasso.

There have been two negative remarks about Picasso but only one was by me and that was more about Picasso being overrated in the popular media. Black Mark: “I never want to see another documentary celebrating the life of Leonardo da Vinci, Rembrandt, Van Gogh or Picasso” The other one was from Singaporean artist, Kamal Dollah: “My view is, you can bore these kids with Picasso and Rembrandts.”

Most of the other references to Picasso have been largely because he is an extremely well known artist; one of the references is about a sculpture of him at an apartment building in Singapore. He is mentioned three times regarding his sculptures from recycled material and his collage. There are three more references to the 1986 kidnapping of Picasso’s Weeping Woman from the NGV by the Australian Cultural Terrorists. One reference to a Picasso painting in a gallery’s collection, one reference to his dealer, Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler and one quoting the song by Jonathan Richmond and the Modern Lovers.

In the room the women come and go, talking about Picasso – “What an asshole. Just look at his paintings.”


Persons of Interest

Persons of Interest was a series of blog posts about artists, writers and thinkers who have had an impact on me at some time in my life and have continued to have an impact. I wanted to write a personal history of art, telling it from my own view, to examine how the art and biographical details have influenced my own critical judgements. It was not an easy process and the posts did not attract many readers; maybe it was too self-indulgent or my choose of persons too obvious. Maybe, the posts didn’t come with enough images; anyway, I don’t think that I will continue it.

Who to include and who to leave out? This is always the question in making such lists. Influences come and go in waves of interest by the public and at various times in your life you get caught up in that wave of general interest. As a kid I must have been reading Robert Hughes in Time Magazine as my parents subscribed to it but I wouldn’t want to count Hughes as an influence or a person of interest. I played on synthesisers and so I was interested in Brian Eno. I am not claiming that I am major fan of Eno but Here Come the Warm Jets and Another Green World has been on high rotation for decades.

Here are all my Persons of Interests posts. They were written roughly in the order that they started to influence me.

Jan #1 – Desmond Morris

Feb #2 – Andy Warhol

March #3 – Salvador Dali

April #4 – Marcel Duchamp

May #5 – Laurie Anderson

July #6 – Various, Notes from the Pop Underground 

July #7 – Keith Haring

August #8 – William Burroughs

September #9 – Philosophers

December #10  – Hunter S. Thompson

It is not surprising that I am interested in influences when the subject of my thesis was the influence of Max Stirner’s philosophy on Marcel Duchamp’s readymades. I started reading Max Stirner because of one remark by Marcel Duchamp but as I was investigating his relationship to philosophy, both the influence on and the influence of, I felt I had to read him.

“When he (Duchamp) was asked later in life to identify a specific philosopher or philosophical theory that was of specific significance to his work, he cited Stirner’s  only major book – Der Einzige und sein Eignetum…” (Francis M. Naumann “Marcel Duchamp: A Reconciliation of Opposites”  p.29)

 


Person of Interest – Andy Warhol

Andy Warhol is an obviously a person of interest to art history. David W. Galenson ranks Andy Warhol as the 8th most important artist in the 20th Century by mean illustrations in a sample of texts on the history of 20th Century art (Conceptual Revolutions in Twentieth-Century Art, Cambridge University Press, 2009, New York). But this monthly series is about artists, writers and thinkers who have had an impact on me at some time in my life and have continued to have an impact, so I have to write about Warhol. He was the most famous living artist in the world when I went to university and studied art history. He was already part of history and his name and influence was everywhere from textbooks to t-shirts.

I remember being at Linden Gallery for a film festival on the day in 1987 that news in Melbourne broke that Andy Warhol died. There was a jam session in one room, a group of people were drumming and chanting: “Andy Warhol’s dead. There will be no trash.” (Trash being one of Warhol’s films.) It was a strange vibe but Warhol’s influence was unavoidable and a few years later I was playing in Edie Sedgwick’s Overdose – a Velvet Underground tribute band fronted by Ron Rude with Frank Borg on drums.

There is so much to say about Andy Warhol – did you see that two-part documentary on his life on the ABC? What quickly became apparent to my youthful interest in Warhol is all of the interesting people around him. There was The Velvet Underground for one. And all the people mentioned in Lou Reed’s song “Walk On the Wild Side”: Hollywood Lawn, Candy Darling, Little Joe, the Sugarplum Fairy and Jackie Curtis many of whom also appear in Warhol’s movies.

There are so many biographies and books by people associated with Warhol that they rival the Dadaists in this sub-genre. Do read Hollywood Lawn’s A Low Life in High Heals (St. Martins Press, 1991, New York). Do not read Ultra Violet’s Famous For 15 Minutes (Harcourt Brace Javanovich, 1988, Orlando).

Last year I read All Yesterdays’ Parties – The Velvet Underground in print 1966-1971 edited by Clinton Heylin (Da Capo Press, 2005). It is collection of original articles about The Velvet Underground arranged in chronological order.

Aside from watching the evolution of the mythology of the Velvet Underground in the original press articles, there is also the media’s view of Andy Warhol. Andy Warhol was associated with the Velvet Underground long after he stopped producing the Exploding Plastic Inevitable show and the Velvet’s first album. Andy Warhol was the famous name promoting the band and attracting the media.

The early social elements described in the article are the most revealing, little details like: the waitresses at the clubs, Sterling Morrison’s green suit, the Velvets playing music at a wedding. These little details reveal elements that are often forgotten in the broad brushstrokes of history.

The evolution of the light show in rock history is extensively discussed by a number of the authors. Light shows and projecting moving images are now an essential part of a rock shows and discos that it is difficult to image the world without them or their rapid development during the Velvet Undergrounds early gigs. The Exploding Plastic Inevitable was Warhol’s vision for a total sensory art experience complete with his silent films running as part of the light show.

Extreme sixties weirdness does creep into later in the reviews, especially in the long and rambling essay by Wayne McGuire that originally appeared in Crawdaddy. The book also marks the emergence of the 60s underground and music press – with the first appearance of serious rock magazines like Crawdaddy and Rolling Stone. But Wayne McGuire does take the Velvet Underground seriously, way too seriously, unlike the trivialization of mainstream press.

For me the connections between art and rock’n’roll were obvious because of Warhol. Considering Warhol as a rock impresario is another dimension along with his painting, photography and filmmaking. As an art form it was something that Malcolm McLaren would later master. Part of Warhol’s artistic legacy would for be to ever confuse the distinctions between art, rock and fame and his influence is still present in the galleries, in music and in street art.

Kach paste-up, Melbourne, 2012

Kach paste-up, Melbourne, 2012


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