Painter Katherine Sherwood: How a Cerebral Hemorrhage Altered My Art

Vesalius's Pump, 2006, 36" x 36", Mixed media on canvas.

Painter and UC Berkeley professor of art Katherine Sherwood has kindly granted permission for us to use one of her works (“Vesalius’s Pump”) as the cover image for our next conference on culture, mind, and brain.

Professor Sherwood, who suffered a massive cerebral hemorrhage in 1997, describes how it affected her art practice in a recent essay published online in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience. After receiving a Guggenheim fellowship for 2005–2006, Sherwood decided to focus on

incorporating brain imagery of western neuroanatomy from the sixteenth century to the twenty-first century. I became fascinated by the traditional role of the artist to pictorially represent what the anatomist discovers. In today’s medical imaging technology, the role of the artist is eliminated. The digital process ostensibly avoids intervention, the human hand, and the craftsmanship of printmakers. What happens when the artist comes at the end of this process instead of in the middle, when the emphasis is on interpretation rather than observation or imitation?

She goes on to describe two pieces (“Pump, Drug, Computer” and “Vesalius’s Pump”):
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In this body of work I shifted my attention to the nervous system. An example is the painting Pump, Drug, Computer (Figure 4). Enlarged digital copies on rice paper of Vesalius’ nervous system are tiled onto the canvas looking at each other. The seal Foras is employed which supposedly makes one happy, wealthy, and wise. It also represents my two fathers. The title of the painting refers to the fact that I had just had a baclofen pump that has a computer within it implanted within my stomach. I laughed with my digital media colleagues that they may be the most adept at using a computer but I am the only one among us that has a computer inside of me. In Vesalius’s Pump (Figure 5) I combine images of his brains with my carotid artery while evoking the seal Sallos which brings love to all that ask.

Katherine Sherwood is a professor in the Department of Art Practice, UC Berkeley, and artist-in-residence at the Helen Wills Institute of Neuroscience at UC Berkeley.


Neal Halfon on Managing Health Care Costs by Focusing on Trajectories Shaped in Childhood

Neal Halfon, director of the UCLA Center for Healthier Children, Families and Communities, and a contributor to our recent book, Formative Experiences: The Interaction of Caregiving, Culture, and Developmental Psychobiology (Cambridge, 2010)  has a new opinion piece in US News & World Report on health care costs that argues against “short-term economic fixes” for (in particular) “costly chronic conditions.”

He argues that:

Individual and population health follow a trajectory. More and more research is clearly showing that early health influences are critical, and that lifelong health trajectories are initiated and programmed in utero, and formulated during the early years—right through adolescence. While the impact of poverty and other social adversity on the health trajectories of young children is well documented, it is not only the poorest children that are at greatest risk for lifelong health problems. Many low income and middle class families are also squeezed by lower wages, higher costs of living, and a lack of adequate education and support services that their children need to arrive at school healthy and ready to learn. Several decades of research shows that children who are deprived of the developmental scaffolding that guarantees a healthy trajectory are more likely to experience school failure, teen pregnancy, criminality, and substance abuse during the second decade; obesity, elevated blood pressure, and depression by the third and fourth decade; coronary artery disease, diabetes, and renal disease by the fifth and sixth decades; and premature aging and memory loss in old age.

His solution is a health care system that focuses on prevention of chronic health conditions in children by “optimizing health and development pathways in the early years,” rather than on the detection of disabilities in the young and disease in the old.

If we are going to really shift the cost curve into a lower trajectory, we need to shift the health curve in to a higher trajectory. The most leveraged and cost effective way to do that is to focus on the time in life when health trajectories are being formed, developed, and launched.

In his chapter (co-authored with biological anthropologist Emily S. Barrett and physician-psychologist Alice Kuo), he likens children to “canaries in the coal mine” in the sense that “children often serve to reflect changes in society, especially those that cause alterations in their health and development.”