OUR READER BAMBALL COMMENTS ON THE LACK OF HUMANITY OF DEBORAH SWALLOW AND THE COURTAULD INSTITUTE:
‘Hope all this works out for you in the end. I don’t mean just the PhD, but also personally, and institutionally, with changes being made to the process (all in this order: you personally, your mom, your PhD, and then the Courtauld). As you relate all this, I’m asking myself if there are basic UK governmental health regulations and privacy rights in place (My experience is in the U.S.)? Even for private institutions like the Courtauld? Surely in some way they take govt money for this or that, which makes them liable to abide by regulations of some sort?
Ironically, I find this horrible story unfolds amongst folks who have devoted their lives to the study of the historical art world. How many times have the antagonists in this story stood in the front of a lecture hall and related the glorious and inspired life of an artist whose very talent and creative energy no doubt was influenced and driven by manic depression or bipolar disorder? How many either were institutionalized or self-exiled themselves from the world? How many artists channeled their inner anxieties and demons onto canvas? How many self medicated themselves with alcohol or drugs or sex?
It’s one more moment to reflect on the state of higher art education as related to the artists’ work they purport to study and teach. Can an art history professor who’s embarrassed by mental illness really stand in front of a Francis Bacon painting and truly understand the spiritual depth, meaning, power of a work, deeper than simply at a cool, intellectual formal level? What moves them about the work–the dollar signs at the auction house?
Imagine Vincent Van Gogh working on his MFA or PhD. Why not? His art isn’t selling, so Theo gets him a chance to study at the Courtauld, which may make collectors more impressed with his work because he now has an MFA. Plus now, he’ll be able to talk more eruditely about his own work and it’s place in time, space and post-structuralist theory. That alone may keep him from getting into so many pub fights. And at its worst, Theo surmises, is at least his brother could use his MFA to get a lecturer gig to pay the bills. But first, Vincent has to meet with Deborah Swallow. And she’s going to discover that if she wants to keep her ears, she better use them to empathize and listen. Really listen.’
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