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Profiles in Paint: An exploration

Artist Charlie Harrison and Prof Sebastian Crutch explore the 'Profiles in Paint' canvases in greater depth.
The bottom row of pictures are all painted by people who don’t live with a dementia, but obviously they’re almost equally varied as the top row. Yeah. What, for you, is the sense of how much one can read into artwork, given people’s different experiences, and background, and interests? I think one of the interesting things is– for the paper we interviewed lots of people, or we sent a questionnaire off to ask people to identify who they thought had had dementia, that had made these paintings. And the one painting that a lot of people said was by someone with dementia is the one on the bottom right corner, and that’s possibly because it’s maybe the least skilfully handled, in painting terms.
And I don’t think that’s because the artist isn’t a good artist. I actually love that painting, but I think it’s because they maybe had the least experience using those materials. Yeah. And I think that’s a really interesting sort of point about how people perceive people with dementia, even professionals working in the area, in that they will be the worst at that thing.
I think one of the other stories I really like about– from this project is that within the work of the person with the visual form of dementia, PCA, I think he and his wife shared the story that although he was keen on painting, because of the visual challenges with seeing what and where things were, that he had experienced, he had worked with another local artist to sort of adapt the way he painted. And for me that’s a really nice story about even if something is difficult, it doesn’t mean you have to stop doing it. Yeah.
But actually, you might adapt your practise, and work around to make use of all the many, many things that are preserved, like the desire to create, the wanting the connection with another artist. The sort of satisfaction that comes from making something– Absolutely! Even though he’d had to adopt this sort of stippling technique in order to achieve that. Absolutely. I mean, for me that’s really important in working in this area, actually, is a lot of people– whether they have dementia or not– say “I can’t do art”, or like, “It’s not something that I’m good at”. But actually, if you’ve got the impulse, as you say, to create, then that’s the only thing you really need.
And then there are ways that you can adapt to whatever you’re doing to get around that, so that it still becomes an enjoyable experience. There’s not really a right or wrong way to make art. Whether you like what you’ve done at the end of it is another story, but that’s the same for all artists, or for anyone that creates.

Artist Charlie Harrison and Prof Sebastian Crutch explore the Profiles in Paint canvases in greater depth.

They discuss the extent to which it’s possible to read into the paintings and as well as assumptions that you could wrongfully make about what the artistic output of a person living with dementia might look like.

The discussion covers:

  • How even professionals working in the dementia field can make common assumptions about dementia.

  • How people living with a dementia can find ways around continuing their artistic practice despite difficulties caused by their diagnosis.

  • How we should not think there being a right or wrong ways to create art.

Were you surprised by any of the canvases, and did they challenge any of your own instincts or assumptions? Please share your comments – hearing about other people’s interpretations is often a highly eye-opening experience.

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Dementia and the Arts: Sharing Practice, Developing Understanding and Enhancing Lives

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