I recently spoke with John Zeisel, creator of the innovative MOMA Alzheimer’s Project—Making Art Accessible to People with Dementia http://www.moma.org/learn/disabilities/dementia. I referred to mother’s inability to remember painting and her disinterest in the paintings themselves. “I think she absolutely remembers,” he assured me and urged me to try a different approach. “Ask her what she thought the artist who painted them might have been thinking.” I tried this out yesterday and, to my surprise, she responded.
“Well, that’s me,” she said, pointing to the larger image on the left. “Such a beautiful woman,” she said sarcastically (self-deprecation being default mode for the McFees.) I asked her about the smaller image on the right and— I think to be polite—she said it was me (I wasn’t present for the painting session but who knows?) She added, “You are a lovely young woman”—this time quite sincere. (Thanks, Mom!) It seems to prove Zeisel’s point—there is a lot more going on inside there than we realize and art is a way to unlock it.
I also played for her the video about her art, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MqGKlbCjV5s. She thoroughly enjoyed the film and loved the paintings (though still insisting she didn’t paint them.) She did, however, keep holding her hand in front of her image on the screen, wincing at she called her ugly, old face. Old habits die hard… but arguably quite wrong as this photo—taken on her 94th birthday—will attest.