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mental illness

Seeing red

I wanted to begin adding more red to my paintings to express the anger I feel when I read about injustices, and inhumanity. Tomorrow I pick up the book Psychosurgery; intelligence, emotion and social behavior following prefrontal lobotomy for mental disorders by Freeman, Watts, and Hunt. I have also been seeking more information about the authors and found that GWU has their papers: so much more to learn and be angry about.

Patient from La Salpetriere (3)Red

From the sublime to the outrageous

On Wednesday of last week it was wonderful to learn that I was one of 22 people chosen for a NJ individual artist fellowship this year. In my work lately I have been focusing my attention on the evils of power, and wondering about the relationship of the victim to those victimized. When considering frontal lobotomies, it is easy to see that the villain is the neurosurgeon who performed them, while the victim is the mentally ill person. The patient shown here did not live at the time that the neurosurgeon James Watt aggressively performed lobotomies with Walter Freeman. However, if she did, she may very well have ended up with an ice pick in her eye. In our desire to cure or help those in pain, we are sometimes driven to extremes, which in hindsight appear despicable. Although even while Watts and Freeman performed lobotomies, critics called the operation crude and irresponsible. Jack Al-Hai’s book, The Lobotomist is engaging reading, and profoundly disturbing. I found myself exclaiming at points, not believing that these operations could be allowed, and for so long. There is also an enlightening transcript from An American Experience episode. It is interesting, but not surprising to note that when these doctors were performing frontal lobotomies predominantly on female patients, the majority of mentally ill patients in hospitals were male.

James W. Watts

Iconographie photographique de la Salpêtrière.

Iconographie photographique de la Salpêtrière includes the photographs of women in various stages of hysteria, including after such episodes. Julie Mellby’s blog discusses the photographs. I first read about this volume in Medical Muses by Asti Hustvedt. I photographed the images from the copy at Princeton University months ago, but only now feel the need to create paintings from them. This is my first attempt, and I chose this woman’s face because of the pleading look in her eyes.

Patient from La Salpetriere, circa 1876-1877