Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Rocket

The Rocket is a work made by Edward Middleton Manigault, who completed the piece using oil on canvas board in 1909. Though Manigault is considered an early American Modernist painter, The Rocket, measuring 20 x 24, is done in a post-Impressionist style. It depicts an autumn fireworks display over the Hudson River using a distinct palette with bold primary colors. It is an important painting with a unique style and story to tell, that is deserving of far more praise and recognition than it has received to date.
            For context, it is necessary to note a thing or two about the life of the artist. Manigault was born in London in 1887 and began painting very early in his life. At the age of 18 he moved to America to attend the New York School of Art, and the next few years of his life were full of accomplishment. Leaving Realism behind and moving on to post-Impressionist style paintings, he soon had his art on display in an exhibition, and later staged three solo shows, one of which was critically acclaimed. At the age of 28 however, two days after getting married, he returned to Britain to serve as an ambulance driver in WWI for six months. Exposure to mustard gas caused him to have a nervous breakdown, and his life spiraled downward after that. He would practice fasting in an attempt "to approach the spiritual plane and see colors not perceptible to the physical eye,” and this ultimately caused him to die of starvation at the age of 35.
            Walking through the galleries in the Columbus Museum of Art, it is nigh impossible to walk past The Rocket and not take notice of it. The vibrant colors grab ones attention and draw one in to a scene that is immediately recognizable as a fireworks display over a river. It is an incredibly unique subject matter for a painting, and a perfect choice to illustrate some of the central ideas of Impressionism, which are to capture a specific moment in time and focus on the perception of light. Yet he puts his own creative twist on it, using colors that are slightly unrealistic, but not unbelievable, and do well to represent the optical experience of watching fireworks. Short, quick brush strokes of distinctly different colors mimic the dazzling experience of seeing a display in real life. The flat image of the painting on paper or a screen fails to demonstrate how brilliant this effect is in person, as the texture of the thick paint creates even more shimmer and shadow. Bold red and blue hues illuminate the trails and clouds of smoke, and the main rocket explosion front and center is a striking combination of blue, yellow and orange, with a shower of sparks cascading below it in a variety of warm colors. Some depth is created using a horizon line over a river bank, and a background that is primarily darkness. The viewer can perhaps take a second to imagine they are sitting in the small boat shown down on the river, which reflects the excitement happening in the sky above.
            Manigault supposedly destroyed over 200 of his own paintings in fits of hysteria or depression, and there are few of them left to see. But if one were to look through the paintings that remain, it would be evident that none are so colorful and intense as The Rocket. As the years passed, the palette for his paintings became more somber and muted, the subject matter more dark and symbolic. By the end of his life, after his time serving in WWI, he appeared to paint mostly drab and dull still lifes. Do the paintings of Manigault perhaps provide a window into his mind? One might speculate that he had been mentally unwell long before the war, and that his service only exacerbated his troubles, as evidenced by the change in his art style throughout his life. Whether or not this is true, it is at least known that his mental health did decline after the war. The Rocket, then, is not only exemplary of the spirit of Impressionism, but a relic from the best years of its creator’s life, when maybe he was not yet troubled, and capable of seeing life in vivid color without having to starve himself for it.
            This painting is not only important for its style and composition in relation to post-Impressionism, but because it is an icon for those who suffer from mental unhealth. It is symbolic of a time when someone who suffered from his own mind was without strife. Perhaps that is why, of the twenty or so paintings he didn’t destroy, The Rocket was one of them, and why it is so different from the rest. It was a reminder that his life was once different, and he was able to know the world in all of its radiant beauty, something he died longing to see again.

Monday, February 10, 2014

A Mental Health Journey

I debated making a post about this as it’s still a “bit early to tell,” but I figured it could be useful for posterity.

I have been seeing a counselor at my university for about two years now. The last time I saw her before summer break, she discussed me the results of a psychological screening, which I took because I don’t think my four year old diagnosis of clinical depression is correct. According to the screening, she said it seemed I had an anxiety disorder. This was not among the things I had considered. I thought perhaps adult ADHD, maybe some mild ASD… I thought it could be any combination of things, but never considered anxiety.

I mulled over this idea for a long time. When I last visited home, I showed the three page results to my dad, who to my surprise was in complete agreement with them. He said reading them was “like watching me grow up.”

Most of my problems are with memory, concentration, and motivation. I didn’t purse further help for awhile because I didn’t need it, but in January I returned to school, and suddenly these were very relevant problems again. So I upped and visited a psychiatrist, who came to the same conclusion as my counselor: I have an anxiety disorder. Because I didn’t respond well to the SSRI I tried four years back (citalopram), he prescribed me a low dosage of a NDRI (bupropion). He also lauded me for doing as well as I have without medicinal help. Apparently some of the things I do (sitting at the front of the class because it’s easier to speak if I can’t see my classmates, little calming rituals like lacing up my corset and boots, etc) are coping behaviors. I had always chalked up my social problems to being an awkward ass introvert.

So I have been taking bupropion for ten days now, and I think I am beginning to see a difference. Things that took me so much effort before, like speaking up in a group, are a little bit easier now. Yesterday I got up the energy to exercise for the first time in months. Seldom in my life have I felt so functional. I feel less stressed out and overwhelmed. And concentration seems to be a bit easier too, though I am definitely still scatterbrained. And still having sleeping troubles, I end up dozing off in class even after nine hours sleep and a latte with two shots of espresso.

These marginal differences are amazing to me, and I almost want to cry thinking about how long I’ve gone without this. What if I had started taking it when I was eighteen? Or fourteen? Or ten? What would my life have been like?

When I told my dad he must have thought the same thing, and he said he regretted not approaching my mental health differently when I was younger. But you know what? I don’t hold a thing against him. He instilled in me a very can-do, no excuses outlook on life, and look how far it’s gotten me. (Just imagine how much more I’ll be capable of with this medication!) And anyway, every person I’ve ever met who started a long-term medication before or during puberty seems to regret it, so I’m kind of glad I didn’t fuck up my brain chemistry while shit was still sorting itself out. (I still wonder how I was affected by taking birth control pills ages fifteen through nineteen.)

So begins a possible new chapter in my life. If I stay on track, I should graduate with my B.S. in Spring 2015 with at least a 3.0
And maybe I’ll finally be able to get in shape, too!

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Wet Lab

Nobody warned me not to eat anything beforehand. I was never in any danger of vomiting or the like, I’ve got too strong a stomach for that. But the lingering flavor of shortbread cookies on my palate mingled with the scent of formaldehyde in such a distinct and unpleasant way that I am fairly certain I won’t be eating shortbread cookies again anytime soon.

I walked into my first anatomy lab excited and a little intimidated. An assortment of displays were set up around the perimeter of the room, and I had twenty minutes to get my fill of them. I started off with the sagittal cross sections of preserved cow and sheep heads, with plasticized brains showing the structure of all the blood vessels. I picked up a frontal cross section showing the inside of a cow’s sinus cavity, and my own sinuses briefly stung and my eyes watered from a whiff of preservative fumes that reached my nose. The juices ran down my gloves and for the rest of the lab I walked around with my hands poised in front of me like a stubby-armed dinosaur.

I marveled at the size of the horse heart, it was as large as my head (and for a horse only fifteen hands high)! I’d had no idea. I chuckled immaturely when I came to the reproduction table, where an assistant explained to me the two different kinds of animal penises and how they worked. The assistant by the reconstructed animal skeletons quizzed me on my bone names, and I was impressed with how much I remembered from my physiology class two semesters ago. Compelled by curiosity, I touched and handled as many things as I could, the cow lungs, the horse hooves, and numerous other disembodied parts. An entire preserved calf hung on chains, with a slit cut in its side so one could stick their hand in to feel the placement of the organs. I wanted to do this as well, but there was a line and I would not have gotten a turn in time.

When the time came to leave, I found myself once again with renewed excitement for a possible future in veterinary medicine. I wondered if I’d ever get used to the smell of formaldehyde, and I when my next opportunity would be for a learning experience such as this one.