Cancer is a visual word. The ancients coined it to name the crab, a shoreline creature with a hard shell. Our medieval forebears applied it to tumors fed by great veins that resembled a crab's claws. Cancer alters our bodies, and mandates that we look newly at ourselves. Previously, women's beauty meant two ostensibly symmetrical breasts. Now, it's beautiful to be alive and have one breast, or indeed none.
To confront cancer in ourselves and our loved ones requires a hard shell. How can we not take it personally? The disease is at once nothing personal, and entirely personal. Ian Summers painted Prostate Roar to express the rage he felt at his diagnosis. Kathleen Chapman titled her multi-media artist's book Forgiving the Anger of a Cancer Chick. All of the artists in this exhibition have faced cancer in themselves, or their friends and families. While a few have chosen to mirror the disease's actuality, others chose to approach the subject obliquely, harnessing art as a vehicle for metaphor and magic.
Painter Bruce Pollock developed an abstract vocabulary of delicate, geometric forms, envisioning his mother's cancer as a "battle in internal regions fought with bombardments of radiation and chemical warfare trying to defeat a shape-shifting foe." Kathleen R. Smith created the talismanic 45 "to keep the evil cancer spirits away while I was 45." The quilt that Judy Smith-Kressley made in response to the untimely loss of two friends gave her both "emotional and physical comfort."
A few of the artists in the exhibition chose to combat cancer with gentle humor. In her photograph Waiting, Jeanne S. Collins captured herself checking in the mirror to see if her hair was coming back following chemo treatments. She has said, "During a series of experiences that have threatened at times to get the best of me, laughter has, indeed, been the best medicine."
It is the nature of cancer to be oafish, to run amok. To create art is to regain control, to restore a sense of self-mastery, even as it reveals the vulnerability of being human. Merle Spandorfer speaks of art's "healing energy." By titling her sculpture about her mother's experience Yes!, Patricia Goodrich affirms her joy in "making something of life's barbed tangle." We thank her, and all the artists in this exhibition, for their courage, wisdom and vision. A special note of appreciation to Diona Adam, Nancy Fried and Hollis Sigler, whom I invited to participate in Confronting Cancer Through Art.
Judith E. Stein, PhD
Confronting Cancer Through Art
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