ART & ORGANISM
DYSFUNCTION can be a congenital trait but is often a dis-ease of developmental ADAPTATION. In either circumstance, there is a difficulty or inability to COPE with a real or perceived challenge to meeting a real or perceived biological need relative to most other people in your culture.
A first clue that an element of development, ecology, evolution, or physiology is more-or-less dysfunctional is when the organism presents symptoms that affect its ability to cope with challenges to its ability to meet biological NEEDS, an early expression of which is STRESS. Stress is manifest in all organisms and when multicellular it can be detected at various levels, such as tissues and organ systems–but often most sensitively at tghe organismic level, expressed in cognition and behavior.
The problem of variation haunts medical science. In the 19th century, one of the founders of experimental medicine, the French physiologist Claude Bernard, claimed that individual variability was an obstacle to medical judgment. If we could show that the abnormal was a mere quantitative deviation from the normal, he wrote, we would possess the key to treating any given individual, no matter how he or she veered from the rest. After all, if the pathological is merely a deviation from the normal, then not only the aim but the very possibility of the therapeutic act becomes clear: return the sick individual, organ, cell or system back to a normal state. ” –Sholl’s essay, “Nobody is Normal”
In A&O, we often refer to the health costs or benefits of art-making and/or -appreciating (expressive and/or receptive art) to emphasize the biological connection. Any human trait can be pathologized when developmental or physiological circumstances leads to one of their constituent elements being deficient or expressed in excess (visit A&O notes on the Delphic Maxim]. The everyday catch-idea about is when one’s behavior requires some sort of intervention to prevent an individual from becoming a danger to one’s self or others.
WE would all likely agree that part of the human condition is more-or-less difficulty in identifying and expressing feelings. In the extreme it is termed “alexithymia,” and some people manifesting these traits are “prone to developing so-called somatic symptoms (bodily complaints such as pain or fatigue) and the use of compulsive behaviours to regulate their feelings, such as binge eating and alcohol abuse.” (read “Dark feelings will haunt us until they are expressed in words,” by Tom Wooldridge (2020) in Psyche, 2020 14 May )
CONSIDER, A&O notes on “NORMAL” characterizing and pursuing the pros and cons, costs and benefits, of neural and behavioral diversity. To underscore the modes of coping look in on
- making a virtue of necessity (Reading: Witty Ticcy Ray by Oliver Sacks),
- unlikely consequences of damage (read about Tommy Mcugh’s art as a symptom of a brain hemorrhage) and
- Yayoi Kusama’s hallucinatory disorder manifest and mitigated in her art self-therapy (watch https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wgSBtXNJjhs).
Thinking of the metaphor of being “cracked” when speaking of someone dysfunctional, there is a significant surge of thinking that at least some of such people (“neuroatypical?”) have mad a virtue of necessity because an epiphenomenon of the atypicality is unusually useful. “Rain Man” come to mind. (a popular1988 movie in which an autistic savant is exploited by his brother).
The emerging disposition to regard neuro-atypical individuals (particularly with respect to autism) as “alternate” reveals alternative attitudes and vocabularies about coping or remediation: Read “Disorder or difference? Autism researchers face off over field’s terminology.”
More positive regard for some “disorders” recalls Leonard Cohen‘s romantic lines in the 1992 song, Anthem:
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.
Coping with dysfunction– even making a virtue of necessity–Also recalls ‘Kintsugi’ (repairing broken pottery with elegance and grace – a tradition with a lot to teach us more generally about how to handle the broken bits of ourselves) (Wikipedia)
“The kintsugi philosophy of embracing imperfection and scars resonates with many across the globe, as Tsukamoto observed throughout his years of working with prominent overseas brands, including Louis Vuitton and Chanel, as well as international museums and students. “Taking pride in one’s imperfections offers peace of mind. The greatest lesson from kintsugi is that we can deal with misfortunes by turning them into something more beautiful”. By doing so, he adds, we build our own unique stories.” Read about the experience of kintsugi with a Japanese master of the craft at the BBC.