Les Amis de Beauford Delaney is partnering with the Wells International Foundation (WIF) to take the Beauford Delaney: Resonance of Form and Vibration of Color exhibition to the U.S.!

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Saturday, June 24, 2017

Beauford in "Psychology and Art" - Part 2


Continued from Part 1.

Dr. Robert Brubaker and the students attending the Kentucky Institute of International Studies course on Psychology and Art are living in a hostel across the street from Sainte-Anne's Hospital, where Beauford spent the last four years of his life. They will visit the hospital to learn about art therapy and view artwork created by hospital patients.

Insignia - Sainte-Anne's Hospital
© Discover Paris!

Dr. Brubaker feels very fortunate to have had the opportunity to visit Sainte-Anne’s Hospital as part of the Psychology of Art class since 2007. The specific agenda varies from year to year, but he and the students typically meet with Dr. Anne-Marie Dubois, Head of the Centre d’Etude de l’Expression clinic and an internationally recognized expert on art therapy. Dr. Dubois talks about the work of her clinic, its history, and about the art collection of the Museum of Art History and History (formerly called the Musée Singer-Polignac) of Sainte-Anne Hospital. She also shares some pieces from the collection - these are works created by persons with mental illness and donated to the museum (not those who are patients in the art therapy clinics).

Entrance to the Centre d’Etude de l’Expression
© Discover Paris!

The Centre d'Etude de l'Expression was formed in 1952 and has operated as a French non-profit organization since 1973. It offers therapeutic expression workshops that incorporate art (and other means of expression, such as writing) into the therapeutic process. Work produced by the workshop participants, while part of the Centre’s collection, is not shared with the public.

The museum is only open to the public during planned exhibitions, the Journées du Patrimoine, and the Nuit Européene des Musées. The collection is stored in an archives located on the hospital grounds. Catalogs from previous exhibits and reproductions (postcards) are available for purchase at the museum. Dr. Dubois has authored a four-volume series of books on the collection (De l’art des fous a l’oeuvre d’art) illustrated with numerous stunning images of many of the works.

This year, Brubaker plans to ask if there are any works by Beauford in the hospital's collection.

I asked whether Dr. Brubaker thinks Beauford's "pathology" is reflected in his work. He responded:

Well, that’s another of those controversial issues. I will preface my response with the disclaimer that I am neither a Beauford Delaney scholar nor an art historian or critic. Based on my reading of what empirical research there is on the topic, I’m certainly not convinced it is possible to look at a piece of art and determine whether the artist had a mental illness or not (except, perhaps, in cases of severe cognitive impairment). I’m also very dubious about the validity of interpreting specific elements of a painting or drawing as symbolic of internal psychological conflicts or turmoil. The data from studies of the validity of projective drawing techniques have convincingly debunked that assertion.

I suspect that such interpretations reveal more about the person doing the interpreting than it does about the artist. Paintings reflect what the artist chooses to tell us. It’s one thing if Delaney tells us, as noted in the catalog of The Color Yellow exhibit, that he believed yellow is “… the color of light, healing, and redemption.” It’s quite another if we observe his use of yellow and draw that conclusion on our own.

The Color Yellow - catalog cover
© Discover Paris!
The entirety of the artist is reflected in his/her work. I don’t think there’s any justification for according “pathology”any special status.

Brubaker does not believe there is a way to know that Beauford struggled with psychological disturbances without prior knowledge of his history. He says that if he knew nothing about Beauford Delaney and noted Beauford's extensive use of yellow in his work, he might suggest that it reflects Beauford's bright, sunny, warm-hearted personality ... or he could just as easily argue that it was a form of masking or compensating for or dealing with depression and unhappiness. He says there are no characteristics of “art of the mentally ill.”

I asked Dr. Brubaker whether he thinks there is a "common significance" for the use of the color "yellow" based on his studies of various artists. While he said that he doesn't feel qualified to offer an opinion on this question, he mentioned the "obvious parallel" between Beauford's use of the color and Van Gogh's "seeming affinity for yellow (the sunflower paintings, the yellow house in Arles), particularly at a time when Van Gogh was more hopeful about his future." He now believes he needs to explore this issue more carefully:

Given the central role the color "yellow" has played in discussions of Delaney’s paintings as well is in those of Van Gogh, particularly during the period he (Van Gogh) spent in Arles, a more careful consideration of the psychological aspects of color is warranted.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Beauford in "Psychology and Art" - Part 1

This course will explore selected topics in the psychology of art within the context of 19th and 20th century painting (primarily painters working in Paris). Artists of particular interest include van Gogh, Picasso, Cezanne, Utrillo, Toulouse-Lautrec, Gauguin, Monet, Delaney, and Modigliani.

The above statements are found at the beginning of the course description for the Kentucky Institute for International Studies* course entitled "Psy 299 Topics: Psychology of Art" being held in Paris this summer.

Dr. Robert Brubaker, Professor and Chair of the Department of Psychology at Eastern Kentucky University, is leading this study abroad course. This year, he is including Beauford in the syllabus for the first time. He contacted Les Amis to ask about resources and materials that he could use to enhance his students' experience.

Professor Robert Brubaker, Eastern Kentucky University
© Discover Paris!

I suggested the "Beauford Delaney's Montparnasse" commemorative walking tour to Dr. Brubaker and arranged to meet him to learn more about the course. He graciously agreed to an interview about his interest in Beauford and his reasons for including Beauford in "Psychology and Art."

During the course, Dr. Brubaker and his students discuss a number of questions/issues/beliefs about the relationship between an artist’s psychological functioning and his/her work. To bring these issues to life and to provide some context, Brubaker likes to introduce the students to several artists who were known to have struggled with psychological disorders. He looks for artists with personal stories that will engage students and help them recognize the complexity of the relationship between mental illness and creativity.

Knowing something about the artist as a whole person and not someone defined by illness enriches our understanding of his/her work. It helps begin to dispel stereotypes about people with mental illness and about artists.

Because the course is taught in Paris, Brubaker selects artists who have some connection to the city. He says that being able to show students where the artists lived and worked, their favorite hangouts, their grave sites, scenes they painted, etc., further humanizes them. Two artists he always incorporates into the class are Vincent Van Gogh and Maurice Utrillo. Others, e.g., Modigliani, Toulouse Lautrec, Gauguin, Picasso, are included to illustrate certain points.

Until recently, Brubaker had only been aware of Beauford in the most general sense from studying art history. He knew Beauford was an American artist and was familiar with a few of his works (notably Can Fire in the Park). He found that Beauford’s life story, his struggles with mental illness, his circle of friends, the aesthetic appeal of his art, his connection with Paris, and his origins in Tennessee (not far from Kentucky) made him an excellent addition to the course.

Over the past few months, Dr. Brubaker read David A. Leeming’s biography, Amazing Grace: A Life of Beauford Delaney, and the catalogs from two Delaney exhibits, Beauford Delaney: From NY to Paris and Beauford Delaney: The Color Yellow. He has read most of the posts on the Les Amis blog and a number of miscellaneous articles discovered online. He is adding Amazing Grace and the Les Amis blog to the bibliography for the course.

The blog led Brubaker to visit Knoxville to see the Gathering Light exhibition currently on display at the Knoxville Museum of Art prior to bringing his students to Paris. I asked him how that visit informed what he is having the students explore regarding Beauford's life and art. He responded:

The students and I explore the nature of creativity and the creative process – Do creative persons share particular personality characteristics, is creativity an inherent trait (some people have it, some don’t) or is it a skill to be learned? do creative ideas spring forth fully formed (inspired) or are they the product of experimentation and shaping and hard work?

What I found particularly interesting in the exhibition from a psychological perspective were the sketchbooks that are on display. I’m fascinated by artists’ sketchbooks because I think they often give us some insight into their thought processes. The quick sketches and notes suggest how the artist plays with ideas prior to putting brush to canvas or paper. For the same reason, the series of self-portrait studies were particularly interesting to me. I will share those observations during our class discussions.

I mentioned to Dr. Brubaker that "Psychology and Art" is a perfect example of STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics) education and asked him how much time he has his students spend looking at art during the course. He said they spend a great deal of time looking at images of art that accompany class presentations/lectures and they go on excursions to art museums to see works in person.

In addition, Brubaker uses images of paintings to illustrate how our brains process visual art – the neurological, perceptual, and cognitive processes that allow us to see, understand, and respond to a visual stimulus as a piece of art. When he mentioned that he had not been able to identify any works by Beauford that are on display in Paris, I organized a visit to the Galerie Intemporel so he and his students could see Beauford's art in person.

The image below shows Dr. Brubaker (far left) the students, and gallery owner Laurence Choko (far right) standing in front of Beauford's Portrait of Vassili Pikoula.

Professor Brubaker and KIIS "Psychology and Art" students at
Galerie Intemporel
© Discover Paris!

Portrait of Vasilli Pikoula
(1970) Oil on canvas
© Estate of Beauford Delaney
by permission of Derek L. Spratley, Esquire,
Court Appointed Administrator

KIIS students at Galerie Intemporel
© Discover Paris!

To successfully complete the Psychology and Art course, students must write a final examination consisting of eight questions that Brubaker provides in advance. These questions reflect important questions studied by psychologists and others interested in art and artists. Brubaker expects students to describe various theories and points of view held by the experts and to present and evaluate the evidence supporting those positions. As an example, he cites the great interest in the question of whether the incidence of psychopathology is greater among artists and other creative people than it is in the general populations. There are published studies supporting this proposition and studies that disagree.

Brubaker says that because debates surrounding these questions often focus on criticisms of the methodology employed in the scientific studies used to explore them, there is no one "correct" answer for any of the exam questions.

At the end of our interview, Brubaker emphasized that he has only begun to study Beauford's life and work. "As we consider Delaney in the context of the psychology of art, I will be learning along with my students," he said.

Professor Brubaker admires Delaney paintings at Galerie Intemporel
© Discover Paris!

*KIIS is a consortium of colleges and universities in Kentucky and some surrounding states, including Eastern Kentucky University.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

"Bringing Delaney Home" at the Knoxville Museum of Art

Two weeks ago, I wrote about a pilot project inspired by Beauford's art and life called Bringing Beauford Delaney Home. It was conducted at West View Elementary School in Knoxville, TN.

The Knoxville Museum of Art (KMA) is currently displaying the artwork created by the students who participated in that project as part of its Celebrate School Art Programs.

Hanging the students' art
Image courtesy of the Knoxville Museum of Art

Information panel
Image courtesy of the Knoxville Museum of Art

The information panel for the exhibition reads as follows (text reproduced with the permission of the museum):

The summer exhibition features West View Elementary students in the grade K-5. This art exhibition at KMA highlights the fundamental importance of the arts in the school curricula, an essential component to the healthy development and complete education of our young people.

Through a partnership with The Great Schools Partnership Community Schools Program, Knoxville Chapter of the Links, Inc., and the KMA, students at West View Elementary were able to spend six weeks learning about Beauford Delaney, one of Knoxville's greatest abstract painters of the 20th century.

The students studied the use of bold bright colors, and the color "yellow" one of Delaney's favorite colors. The students self-portraits are inspired by Beauford's yellow portraits.

Student self-portraits
Image courtesy of the Knoxville Museum of Art

The students also studied Beauford's abstract paintings from Paris, which inspired them to create abstract collages pieced together from many other abstract paintings they created.

Student abstracts
Image courtesy of the Knoxville Museum of Art

The large mixed-media piece is a collaborative painting made by all 26 students who participated in the Bringing Delaney Home project.

Collaborative student abstract
Image courtesy of the Knoxville Museum of Art

The students began the project knowing little or nothing about Beauford Delaney, but are now big fans of his artworks and are willing to share their new knowledge. On the learning expedition to the KMA, the students were excited to finally see the original work created by Delaney in person.

Bringing Delaney Home will hang in KMA's Education Gallery until June 30, 2017.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Still Lifes by Beauford


The Tate Gallery defines still life painting as follows:

One of the principal genres (subject types) of Western art – essentially, the subject matter of a still life painting or sculpture is anything that does not move or is dead.

Beauford rarely painted stiil lifes. There are two that I find particularly remarkable:

Still Life with Pears
(1946) Oil on canvas
© Estate of Beauford Delaney
by permission of Derek L. Spratley, Esquire,
Court Appointed Administrator

Still Life with Eggplant & Fruit
(1949) Pastel on paper
© Estate of Beauford Delaney
by permission of Derek L. Spratley, Esquire,
Court Appointed Administrator

Both of these works were painted prior to Beauford's relocation to Paris. Still Life with Pears is bold and crisp, while Still Life with Eggplant & Fruit is soft and sensual.

Both are revelations of Beauford's brilliant use of color.