Van Gogh’s “colorblindness” and the subjectivity of perception

Color simulation
Vincent Van Gogh, “Wheat Field behind St. Paul Hospital with a Reaper” (1889)

I recently read an article on ArtInfo about a medical student in Japan, Kazunori Asada, who wrote an essay claiming to have proven that the artist Van Gogh was colorblind. The article– entitled “Japanese Scientist says Vincent van Gogh Was Colorblind– But Does it Matter?”– discusses how Asada was inspired by an experience at the Color Vision Experience Room at Hokkaido, which is “an immersive simulator that makes it possible to perceive color the way people with different types of colorblindness might experience it.” Asada ran several images of Van Gogh paintings through a color simulator, and you can see one of the results on the right. The gorgeous reds are eliminated and the painting overall looks to be more of a cool yellow.

The author of the article, Kyle Chayka, brings up several really excellent issues/points: 1) The images Asada used were digital images, therefore subject to the color variance of the individual computer screen (i.e. his computer could have been picking up more red than another computer would), or that of the scanner which scanned these reproductions picked up more red, or that of the images themselves, which may have been printed with a higher content of magenta in the ink; 2) Asada’s judgment that the “corrected” color simulations demonstrate more “‘brilliance with very delicate shades and lines'” (as opposed to an “‘incongruity of color and roughness of line'”) is extraordinarily subjective; and 3) the question of how one judges creativity. I found the following passage to be particularly moving:

How can we argue that van Gogh’s paintings look better through a filter? To assume that the painter’s provocative artistic choices were simply the result of a medical condition is to completely disregard his own creativity. Van Gogh’s colors are meant to clash; the unorthodox pairings were part of the Post-Impressionist and Fauvist aesthetic. Or were Paul Gauguin and André Derain also colorblind?

The article concludes with the question of whether genius-artists are innovative because of their biology or because they are creative pioneers, and he ultimately leans towards the latter. While I too prefer this sentiment– I personally think that the claim that Van Gogh was colorblind is absolutely ridiculous and unsubstantiated (if he was colorblind, he would have exhibited a similar color palette in his entire oeuvre, but his earlier works utilized more subdued earth tones)– a part of me wants to play devil’s advocate. What if he was colorblind? Beyond saying that “it doesn’t matter,” what can deficiencies in vision show us about our own perceptions of the world?  Continue reading


Semester assessment

There is a certain relief that one feels once they are fully aware of what they are getting themselves into. It’s an ironic feeling, since one would think that it’s better not knowing so that they can enjoy the remaining freedom that they have left. But not for me. I prefer knowing what the forecast looks like, even if that means finding out when the storm hits. After weeks of dreading what this semester could hold in store for me, I have now been to all 3 of my classes; while I had a bad hour on Monday after my History class, in which I considered dropping the class, I have decided that I will be able to survive this semester. Better than that: I should be able to take comps around October 12 and am relatively confident that I can pass.

However, I am going to be up to my eyeballs in work, especially until October. I should be able to squeeze my classwork into the week, but the weekend is going to be nothing but comps-studying. I have been lucky over the summer to be able to post every day or so, but it’s going to slow down now. My posts related to crafting have already suffered, and they are unfortunately going to suffer more because, at least until October, I have not idea how I will find time to crochet. On the other hand, I may resort to keeping my eyes open to cool stuff to post that is not one of my creations. Perhaps it is time that I open a Pinterest account…

This blog has become one of the best studying tools that I have ever used; indeed, it has been a tool for focus in general, as I doubt I would have been able to get through as much of my crocheting as I did without the “likes” and encouragement from others. However, the academic focus of this blog is going to shift a little bit during the course of the semester. While I will still post reviews of my comps-related books and articles (though arguably not as many as I posted over the summer, since it takes quite a bit of time to type them up), I am also going to post reviews of the books I am reading for my History class. These will be preparation for the actual reviews that I have to turn in to my class. Only one of these books– Print the Legend— relates to art. Everything else deals with Native Americans (indeed, race and ethnicity in American in general), environmental history, etc.

I am also going to be posting more reviews of museums. This too will be preparation for my weekly papers that I am writing for my Intro to Museum Studies class. We are going to be visiting a lot of different museums throughout the semester– art, history, science, and children’s museums– some of which I have never been to before.

Finally, I may post some thoughts on what I am learning throughout the week. One of the great– and worst– things about grad school is that we are forced to think critically about what we are learning. I’ve got a lot of different things I am learning about this semester, and therefore I may occasionally have a really great idea that I cannot help but share.

Thank you all for reading and bearing with me as I journey through grad school!

Donation Day #1: Locks of Love!

I’ve only mentioned on this blog one other time that I was planning on cutting my extremely long hair and donating it to Locks of Love, and that day has at last arrived.

The last time I donated to Locks of Love was 5 years ago, and to be honest, I wasn’t sure if I could do it again because of how cumbersome it gets to take care of over a foot and a half of hair. When I started grad school, my hair was already pretty long, but then I never had time to get a haircut, so it just kept growing. And growing. By the time winter hit, I decided that I might as well donate my hair again. I went in to get a trim once just to make sure that my ends weren’t completely dead– luckily I never blow-dry or color my hair, so it was in pretty good shape. Today, I went to a nearby Great Clips, and I ended up getting a free haircut and style out of it!

When I measured my hair, I thought it would be a little longer once she cut off the 10 inches, but then she had to even it out and trim it a little more to get the hairstyle I wanted. It’s going to take some serious getting-used-to: I keep running my fingers through my hair, but then it just stops! It’s all gone– and it’s FABULOUS!

For those who don’t know, Locks of Love is a non-profit organization that uses donations of real hair to make hair prosthetics for financially disadvantaged children with diseases that have resulted in hair loss. According to their website, most of the children they serve suffer from alopecia areata. The mission of Locks of Love is to “return a sense of self, confidence, and normalcy” to these children.

Want to donate? You should– you will be helping a child in need! Be sure to check the website for their requirements: you need to be able to donate at least 10 inches of non-bleached hair. However, it doesn’t need to be just hair, they accept financial donations as well. Their address is:

Locks of Love
234 Southern Blvd
West Palm Beach, FL 33405

In “defense” of a hack-job restoration

Elías García Martínez, “Ecce Homo” (c. 1890)
Santuario de N.S. de la Misericordia, Borja, Spain
(Before, during, and after “restoration”)

It is unlikely that there is someone in the art world who has not yet heard this story (indeed, anyone who pays attention to the news has probably heard it, now that this has gone international), but I will still recap: an elderly woman in the town of Borja, Spain, with the permission of her parish, was working around the church to fix things up a bit and took it upon herself to “restore” a 120-year old fresco by local artist Elías García Martínez. “Ecce Homo,” which means “behold the man,” depicts the moment before Jesus was crucified. The fresco was flaking and in desperate need of restoration, so over the course of two years (in full view of others), she scraped off the loose paint and repainted the missing areas. The result is illustrated above, and clearly, things did not turn out so well.

Mr. Bean’s restoration of “Whistler’s Mother” (from the movie “Bean”)

I first read this story from a fellow WordPress blogger, Blog of the Courtier (if you click on the Source link under the picture above, you can check out the original post). It was a beautifully sympathetic perspective on how this woman did not know that she was doing something “wrong” in taking on this “restoration” by herself without any formal training, and that everyone makes mistakes. Other stories I have read since then, such as this one on CNN, are more comical and rather harsh: CNN journalists Brad Lendon and Mariano Castillo likened her work to that of the titular character in the movie Bean when he tried to repair “Whistler’s Mother” after using turpentine to clean up the remnants of a sneeze. I have since read– in another post that was also on Blog of the Courtier– that the poor woman has since suffered numerous anxiety attacks due to all of the media coverage, which has mostly been just like CNN’s. Because of my past experience in art conservation, current work in collections management/registration, and scholarly work in art history, I believe that there there are multiple ways that this story can be objectively analyzed that go beyond laughing at what she did to this fresco. Continue reading

I’ve heard about this thing called “WIP Wednesday”…

A soon-to-be-finished iPad cozy!

I’m being all kinds of bad this week: I’ve apparently lost all motivation to read for comps, and though I am once again crocheting, it is something that is just for me. My justification for the lack of studying is that I’m a little better off than I thought I was in terms of where I am in my preparation. Also, to be quite frank, at the moment I feel rather burned out and kind of want to take a break before I am back in the thick of school on Monday. I may regret this decision later, but right this second, I just don’t care.

So what am I working on? Why, a little folio/cozy for my beloved iPad! My boyfriend asked, “Didn’t you already buy a cover for your iPad?” I said that I didn’t want the cover getting all scratched up (yeah, I’m that Type A) and that I wanted to make something pretty/colorful. These yarns had been sitting around my apartment for 2 years. They were an impulse buy at this fiber crafts expo a couple summers ago, and for the longest time, I could not figure out what I wanted to do with them. Both are hand-dyed: the multi-colored wool is called Fairy Slipper (after the orchid),  and the other is a merino wool is called Winter Pine Buds. I’m just about done– I need to finish the other side with the merino wool and the trim– though I’m also thinking about making a little pocket to put my styluses in, or maybe doing some pretty embroidery to make it a bit more unique.

I may regret my decision to slack off on my studying right before things get a hell of a lot busier with a full class load, but at least I’ll have something bright and beautiful to look at. Working on this has also made me think about other things to add to my list of things I’d like to try once I’m out of school, such as learning how to spin and dye my own yarns. Those would be some very cool and unique skills to acquire.

Essay review: Else Surely We Shall All Hang Separately: The Politics of Western Women’s History by Virginia Scharff

Poster from the movie “Calamity Jane” (1953) with Doris Day and Howard Keel

History, then, is one word commonly and confusingly used to refer to two things: what happened, and what we say happened. (537)

Apologies for my unusually long absence from the blogosphere, all! The last six days have been filled with preparations for getting to, attending, and returning from a wedding (third of the month for me) in San Diego, which involved a lot of insanely early mornings. Consequently, I didn’t as much done over the last week as I would have liked– exhaustion made sure of that– but I did read three essays over the weekend: “A Minoritarian Feminism? Things to Do with Deleuze and Guattari” by Pelagia Goulimari, “The Gentle Tamers Revisited: New Approaches to the History of Women in the American West” by Joan M. Jensen and Darlis A. Miller (inconsequential aside: this essay was the first PDF I read and highlighted using my GoodReader app on my iPad!), and of course Virginia Scharff’s “Else Surely We Shall All Hang Separately.” I also started reading a book called Photography and Surrealism: Sexuality, Colonialism, and Social Dissent by David Bate, which I will hopefully be able to review tomorrow or Wednesday. Goulimari’s “A Minoritarian Feminism?” was an unnecessarily jargon-y and difficult-to-read essay that is mostly useful as a secondary source (most of the essay was spent critiquing two works by other scholars) and which I don’t feel like reviewing here. Jensen’s and Miller’s “Gentle Tamers Revisited” was referenced a lot in Scharff’s essay, thus I felt compelled to read it for the sake of thoroughness, but again, I don’t feel like it is necessary to write a review for it. Therefore, by process of elimination/preference, I am now going to review the last aforementioned essay. Continue reading

Things I dream about doing… after grad school

I have dedicated a lot of this blog’s bandwidth to rambling about grad school. Not a whole lot, but far more than I had originally intended. Summer has really opened my eyes to the glory of not being in school– in addition to revealing that everyone you know gets married in their mid- to late-20s– and I cannot believe that I ever used to get angsty about feeling bored.

My hate-love-hate relationship with grad school is kind of like my relationship with this meme.

My relationship with grad school is best described as hate-love-hate– you know, kind of like West-Northwest, which is when you’re headed in a more Westward-ly direction than a simple 45 degree-Northwest– because, while I love learning new things and feeling like I am benefiting my career, I cannot even begin to express how stressful school can be some weeks. It’s not necessarily the copious amount of reading and writing– I’m actually pretty fond of the writing (shocking, I know– I only post on my blog every other day)– that gets to me so much as the classroom experience.

I’ve got 13 days until I’m back in school. One of my upcoming classes meets for seven hours a week. Seven. Two hours on Mondays and five hours on Wednesdays. All of my other classes– in the past and next semester– meet for 2.5 hours a week. Granted, the five-hour sessions are field-trip oriented, but still: seven hours for one class.

I’ve thought a lot about what my life is going to be like next summer, which is hopefully when I’ll be done with my Master’s degree. I don’t want to revert back to my pre-grad school ways– sitting on the couch all night playing Tiny Wings or Angry Birds, reading the news off of like there is no tomorrow– because there is no denying that grad school has changed me. I can’t imagine being lazy after this experience. However, as much as I actually enjoy reading scholarly material now (seriously, I kind of do), there are other things I would like to do with my time as well. Continue reading