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Cancer and Art

Posted 2/9/2014

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  There are many talents that I am lacking, and then there are many other things that I am really bad at--art wold fit both groups. When I was about eight, I took a painting class, and I was so untalented that the teacher ended up giving me paint by numbers projects while everyone else was free hand (free art? free something?). It was only later, fortunately, that I realized how pathetic that was. Fortunately, there are many people in the world who are hugely talented artistically, and some of them have used those gifts to express their experience with cancer.

  For at least a dozen years, we had an art show as part of our annual Celebration of Life. We displayed wonderful pictures and sculptures and photographs and mixed media and other pieces by our community; I loved it. We sadly abandoned that tradition when our funds and time became more limited, and we just could not manage it. If you take a minute to Google "cancer and art", you will be overwhelmed by everything that comes up.

  Today, I am giving you an essay by Susan Gubar about an artist who had cancer, his evocative work, and all it brings up for her and for her readers.. Enjoy it.

Living With Cancer: An Artist’s View

Every time I sign a consent form, I wonder how informed I really am. Do physicians — can
physicians— convey the consequences of their treatments to cancer patients? Or is this where artists step
A few years before the Canadian painter Robert Pope died in 1992, he dealt with an aggressive form
of Hodgkin’s disease by undergoing a succession of standard treatments and by creating evocative
canvases about the fraught experiences of cancer patients. Social realism meets surrealism in large
paintings that portray the loneliness of sick men and women within the sterility of contemporary
hospitals. Pope’s works —reproduced in the book “Illness & Healing” — ask us to think about blood
sacrifice: about patients as well as caretakers reenacting archaic, fearful rituals in technologically
advanced settings.
Take, for example, his painting “Radiation,” in which a man lies alone on a narrow plank beneath a
huge machine directing rays at his abdomen. The artist explains that “the red lasers which are used for
positioning suggest a Christian cross, the table the man lies on is like an alter, he is covered with a white
shroud, the machine hovers above him like an idol or faceless god that must be propitiated with bodily
sacrifices.” Holding still in a black void, the marked man is caught in the beamed cross-hairs. He has to
expose himself to a dreaded otherness that he cannot possibly understand and that all others flee. Will its
invisible powers heal or harm him?

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