The Facial Art Mystery
“The job of the artist is always to deepen the mystery.” – Francis Bacon.
One of the interesting things about regularly practicing art, is that you start to develop a style of your own. I have taken to working on portraits. This has become something of a fascination to me, for I have a condition called Prosopagnosia; also known as face blindness. It is a life-long condition and one that I never knew was something to be diagnosed until fairly recently.
Basically, if I see someone familiar in a situation other than that which I am used to seeing them, or if I see someone familiar but they present very differently to what I am used to, then I can become uncertain about who they are. I may experience doubt that I am recognising them correctly through to completely not recognising them at all and treating them as if they are a complete stranger to me!
This will be familiar to family, friends and colleagues who have seen me go completely blank when trying to introduce people to each other, who will have seen me call ‘hi’ or wave to some poor stranger because I am convinced that I recognise them or that I have been in the company of a friend and either just been unable to state who they are. I have even walked up to close friends and introduced myself as if meeting the person for the very first time. As you may imagine, this largely has been the source of chuckles but, once or twice has actually offended people who feel hurt by my lack of recognition.
Generally, I use a variety of information to work out who someone is. The most significant to me is voice, but I also take in body language and mannerisms, details of regular accessories people may wear or carry and often there may be a significant feature about a person that is enough for me to connect the dots, so to speak.
I recently undertook a research placement for the University of Swansea, who tested me a number of ways and, although I thought I had done well for there were faces in the images of people that I was shown, that I successfully recognised, they categorised my overall score as 0%! I was in the most affected category and immediately diagnosed with Prosopagnosia.
As a person with Parkinson’s, which is also a neurological condition, I cannot but wonder if these two are part of the same neurological problem. Indeed, I would say that the prevalence of the Prosopagnosia has increased as the Parkinson’s has worsened.
It is, I suspect, with the Prosopagnosia being a significant issue for me, that I find myself drawn to portraiture as a form of art. I am able to study the face of my subject in detail but I have also discovered that how I form a portrait differs from many of my friends who do not have Prosopagnosia. For example, I form a face based upon layers and shapes, rather than trying to draw what I see. If you read back through my posts in this magazine, in the section entitled ‘Artwork’, in the menu, you will find that how I have formed some of my portraits has been about building layer upon layer.
I have even had to paint one of my subjects in blue, for to be able to interpret what I see into something my hand draws or paints, I find that I sometimes cannot create the image on paper unless I do so in a particular colour. This seems like some sort of image based dyslexia, to me. I find this utterly fascinating.
Today, a friend of mine who is a talented artist presented to me the early works of Andy Warhol. These were in the form of what we call line-drawing. I was stunned, for these are so like a style that I am evolving for some of my portrait work. Here is an example of my line drawn portraiture:
If you now ‘Google’ and seek ‘Andy Warhol Line Drawing’, you will find many similar examples of his style.
When I now consider that I painted a portrait of singer Ricky Martin in blue and I look at my tendency towards line drawing for portraits, I cannot now but wonder whether Andy Warhol perhaps had Prosopagnosia? Was his work the very same example of how he was trying to see and interpret his subjects through a neurological difficulty? If there is any history of Andy Warhol having Prosopagnosia, I would be very grateful if any of my readers would post a link or details in the comments below this post, please.
Here is my blue Ricky Martin:
Are you perhaps an art academic or a neurology researcher with an interest in the interplay between art and Prosopagnosia? Do please feel free to contact me if you would like to ask any questions or even let me know if I may contribute to your research in some way.
For now, I will do some more research of my own into this subject and into Andy Warhol, to see whether there is any evidence of Prosopagnosia written about him. Do take a look at the subject of artists (and please remember that I am just a hobbyist where dabbling with art is concerned) and Prosopagnosia. As I have been exploring, I have found a fascinating and familiar world of how artists see their subjects and have to find unique and creative ways to depict their work.
(C) Dean G. Parsons. 2019.