No worries

In an interview in New York last week on the WABC radio show “Right Now with Doug McIntyre,” Dr. Drew Pinsky said he’s “gravely concerned” about the health care that presidential nominee Hillary Clinton is getting. He called it “bizarre.” But the doctor was referring to medical records that were debunked as fakes months ago, Clinton’s physician of many years also confirmed that the supposed records aren’t founded on medical facts.

The silly season

If this were some isolated incident in the silly season of a presidential campaign, it might be dismissed as bad politicking. But diagnosing from a distance isn’t new in the medical world.

While Dr. Pinsky made his determination without an in-person examination, there are doctors who have evaluated people long dead. No joke. The medical subjects were artists and their ills were assessed by a looksee at their #Art. The soupy skies of, say, 19th century artist J.M.W. Turner -- credited as the forerunner of Impressionism – are said to be the result of cataracts. In 2003, British ophthalmic surgeon James McGill, who said he studied Turner’s work for many years, told the Guardian that the artist was color blind from the start and ultimately developed cataracts. To hear him tell it, Turner simply painted what his eyesight allowed him to see.  

Look again

Sorry, doc, that’s not all that Turner painted. He was a Romantic painter, bent on great drama – you know, the Heathcliff on the moor variety – and he was also hugely inventive.

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Given that history, you shouldn’t measure his take on color against natural color. Turner used Nature only as a starting point for what may be fairly described as explosive visions. In “Fighting Temeraire,” Turner showed a battle-weary warship getting towed to port for the last time under a setting sun and wind-swept skies. Turner clearly dramatized the event by conveying the idea that Nature was paying a last tribune to a war-torn ship that did its duty for England.

Solving the mystery

Given Dr. McGill’s presumed knowledge of Turner, it’s surprising that he missed the point of the “Fighting Temeraire,” one of his most celebrated works. Dr. McGill also seemed unaware that Turner loved mystery and wouldn’t have wanted to color the known world. Turner was so into mystery that he locked his studio doors when he painted to escape scrutiny. This suggests that he would have hated McGill’s inspections, particularly given that he got him so wrong. The Impressionists understood what Turner was doing and followed his lead. But they have also been diagnosed with cataracts. And while some may well have had this condition, it can’t be said that all of them suffered poor vision. What explains, for example, Impressionist Pierre Bonnard saying, “What I am after is the first impression – what my eye takes in at first glance”? If doctors insist on diagnosing ills from looking at artwork, they should also check out artists’ histories. Hopefully, that’s what they do with their actual patients. #Buzz