03 Jan
Colored pencils.

Text by Rick McVicar

 A series of self-portraits by American painter William Utermohlen tells the story of Alzheimer's progression, according to an article written by Bob Sharp found on artsy.net. The article is posted on an Alzheimer's Association website.

  In "For Alzheimer's Patients, Art's Therapeutic Effects are Transformative," Jan. 18, 2017, Sharp notes that Utermohlen's art has been displayed in galleries around the globe. Christophe Boicos, a gallery operator in Paris, has said that Utermohlen is the only known artist to have depicted the various stages of Alzheimer's. Utermohlen fought hard to retain his health and find some semblance of recovery.

  As time wore on, "perspectives shift and details fall away, leaving more distorted and abstract shapes," Sharp writes. At times, Utermohlen painted his face framed by black lines, signifying his feelings of being "boxed in." The artist died in 2007.

 According to the article, Alzheimer's patients may retain consciousness but lose their ability to communicate through language. Visual art then opens a whole new avenue for communication.

  That assertion is supported by an article found on the AARP website by Victoria Sackett, June 25, 2018. In "The Beauty of Art Therapy," Sackett writes that researchers have discovered that for many with Alzheimer's, the part of the brain responsible for language becomes impaired while the brain's location for visual skill remains intact. Sackett cites a study by Bruce L. Miller at the University of California-San Francisco.

 "We think that with patients with language loss, the visual side of their brain stops being inhibited by the verbal side of the brain," Miller's report is quoted as saying.

  Art can then take the place of language for communicating thoughts and feelings. Kate de Medeiros, who teaches gerontology at Miami (Ohio) University, has noted that art can bring "meaningful moments ... flashes of joy and purpose," to those diagnosed with Alzheimer's.

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