One of the things that affect the way knowledge and art are produced and circulate in society is institutional autism. I have discussed this many times before but I want to get back to it because I think the whole issue brings light to the place that art schools and art history institutions have in the way art is being looked at and understood. For those of you that have started reading this blog recently, I did all my art history studies at the Courtauld Institute of Art where I was awarded many grants and the dissertation prize. However, two years ago, while I was having one of the most difficult times of my life fighting with a, potentially lethal, depression, I went to the Courtauld Institute for help and this is what happened…
In a meeting with my PhD tutors (Rose Marie San Juan and Joanna Woodall), I asked in tears for help but their response (and the institution’s) shocked me. It was after breaking into tears in a meeting with them that I decided to tell the institution about my personal situation. In that meeting both of them suggested me to keep silent and not say anything because that ‘would hurt my career’. After I got home that day, I sent them an email telling them that I had decided to tell the institution about my depression not to take time off but to have the needed support. At that point, it was Rose Marie San Juan who sent me an email by mistake where she mocked with my other tutor (her friend Joanna Woodall) about my depression.
After that, I sent this email to the authorities at the Courtauld and they tried to conceal the fact and liquify what was evident and is on paper. I was harassed by many emails where instead of support I was being attacked (even investigated by the institute) at a time when my depression was not yet properly diagnosed and treated. During that time I felt many times suicidal and desperate. Of course, the way I handled the situation was not the appropriate way but I was desperate and needed help. The only thing I got from the Courtauld was a very cold decision to deny their responsibility and get rid of me, as quickly as possible.
Then, I considered initiating legal actions against it for what I needed them to provide me (as per the Data Protection Act ) the email conversations between Rose Marie San Juan and Joanna Woodall due to the fact that the latter denied that San Juan’s infamous email was directed at me. After 14 months, I finally got that conversation but the institute has covered and FULLY CENSORED the parts of the conversation that were relevant and until today, the Courtauld has not allowed me to see the information that belongs to me by law. At that time the institute hurried to make me submit a formal complaint (my official complaint had been submitted immediately after the episode) without giving me the necessary information for it to proceed. They very quickly tried to cover and deny everything. As a result, I decided to drop out and my research on Diego Velazquez is on hold.
The Courtauld’s reaction raises many issues amongst which there is the need to change the way academic institutions deal with students suffering from mental health issues, addictions and depression. It is as if the Courtauld’s mind frame was to get rid of me as if I were a problematic case to deal with and not a person with problems that needed help. How could the institution ask anything from a person that, before anything, went to them asking for help. In that context, it must be understood my decision to write about this in my blog in rather harsh terms. It was my way of not going crazy or, in two words, of killing myself.
This shows a whole series of issues. Two of them interest me the most. Firstly, what are the mechanisms to assess the psychological fitness of tutors due to the fact that in my particular case there is the possibility that, at least, one of them is possibly not psychologically fit for the role. We all know that if a depressive personality (with lack of self-worth) is put under the responsibility of a sadistic character, the consequences can be lethal. If we bear in mind that Joanna Woodall and Rose Marie San Juan knew that I had just separated, my mom was ill, I was alone in a foreign country and I had health issues, I wonder what they expected to happen to me when they advice me not to tell the institution about my depression. Weren’t they the institution? After that I discussed this with the Deputy Director and he said that they were not trained to deal with such a situation. I guess that is the problem.
I have the feeling that art history academics see themselves as part of a connoisseurial twilight that should be dedicated to sophisticatedly tasteful research. At the Courtauld, the notion of the Ivory Tower is almost architectural. That is why any human issue or problem is seen as noise that has to be erased. The problem with this is that that same institution is devoted to the study of the way human beings have expressed similar issues throughout history in a visual manner. Isn’t this a contradiction in terms and a problem both at a cognitive and at an epistemological level? How can people that seem unable to deal with human issues write about them? How can they teach it, to begin with….Just a thought.