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Erin Beck


In an effort to explore the complicated relationship between the fields of art and science, I considered changes in artwork toward abstraction as the result of stylistic choice or the consequence of a neurological condition. Pablo Picasso, whose artistic career comprised distinct and identifiable periods, is presented as an example of self-conscious changes in artwork. In Picasso’s Deconstructed Bull series, he demonstrates his rational program of reduction as each image highlights the step-by-step process of arriving at an abstract bull from a figurative bull. With regard to change as the consequence of disease, Patient SM’s artwork was analyzed under the guidance of Dr. Grossman at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. Patient SM suffers from Semantic Dementia (SD), a variant of Frontal Temporal Dementia (FTD) that is characterized neurologically by bilateral atrophy of the Anterior Temporal Lobe (ATL) and behaviorally by the loss of receptive and expressive vocabulary. SD is characterized by a loss of object concepts, and patients present the “Reversal of Concreteness Effect,” in which responses and accuracy for abstract words are better than for concrete words on simple association tests. These changes are observed in Patient SM’s paintings as the previously representational paintings become increasingly abstracted. Although Picasso and Patient SM serve as clear examples of these different motivations of abstraction, other artists and diseases make the distinction more confusing. The late works of William Utermohlen and Willem de Kooning, both suffering from Alzheimer’s are discussed with respect to these concerns. These considerations raise the question: when is it the artist doing the work and when is it the disease?


SECTOR A: Philosophy and Science of Seeing

ADVISERS: Dr. Murray Grossman (Neurology) and Dr. Jason Karlawish (Geriatric Medicine)