Guess what - the "flu and art don't mix! / by Jeannine Cook

Well, I seem to be following the general fashion at present, coughing my heart out and trying to recover from 'flu that was over-generously shared in a plane returning from Europe last week

What got me interested as I began slightly to revive - or at least stop sleeping all the time - was how effectively the creative side of me, or even the interest in art, had been temporarily extinguished. That led me to reflect on the ramifications of all the artists' lives affected by some form of illness, physical or mental. I decided first and foremost that it is a testimony to the courage of so many of those famous people that despite, or in spite of, everything, they continued, and created marvellous work. Van Gogh comes readily to mind, with all the anguish and tribulations he experienced. Even when he was apparently being treated for epilepsy, he created the work Starry Night which shows the possible side-effects of the digitalis treatment. Perhaps another most daunting situation must have been the blurring of vision that so many older artists experienced with cataracts forming. It is interesting that we become more aware of this with Monet's later paintings; he was among the earlier artists to advocate working outdoors en plein air. The sunlight exacted its price. (It is thus a reminder to all of us artists who work outside - shade your eyes as much as possible from the sun.)

An interesting thought evolves from a lot of the examples of artists in previous generations working under daunting physical and mental conditions: many of their conditions can now be detected and alleviated, if not cured. Would we all be the poorer, collectively, if they had not had to push through these handicaps? A fascinating TimesonLine article examines these issues - well worth a read. despite being written some while ago.

These thoughts on artists' ability to transcend physical conditions and still create art tie in with another most interesting article I returned to in January's issue of ARTNews by Ann Landi, entitled "Is Beauty in the Brain of the Beholder?" I had alluded to these fascinating areas of research from another angle when I wrote on December 1st last of the ability of Art to Lift the Spirits of the Sick. This article neatly complements because it discusses some of the neuroesthetics research being carried out, learning what parts of the brain react to - say - images of artworks. There are different parts of the brain that react to colour, form or motion, while other researchers are tiptoeing into the minefields of rating artworks as beautiful, neutral or ugly, in other words, an aesthetic experience. This level of perception of satisfaction with viewing a piece of art is being applied as an experiment to which I have also previously alluded - at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, where the exhibition, "Beauty and the Brain: A Neural Approach to Aesthetics" is showing from January 23rd to April 11th. People will be asked to chose a favourite version of Jean Arp's 1959 sculpture, Woman of Delos.

Well. that that remains is to get the different portions of my brain un-be'flued and then perhaps I can do something about creating art, not just thinking about it. I can't wait!