Notebook

How does he do anything? I wondered to myself. What happens when he’s dressing, goes to the lavatory, has a bath? I followed his wife into the kitchen and asked her how, for instance, he managed to dress himself.  “It’s just like the eating,” she explained. “I put his usual clothes out in all the usual places, and he dresses without difficulty, singing to himself. He does everything singing to himself. But if he is interrupted and loses his thread, he comes to a complete stop, doesn’t know his clothes — or his own body. He sings all the time — eating songs, dressing songs, bathing songs, everything. He can’t do anything unless he makes it a song.”

While we were talking my attention was caught by the pictures on the walls.

“Yes,” Mrs P. Said, “he was a gifted painter as well as a singer. The School exhibited his pictures every year.”

I strolled past them curiously – they were in chronological order. All his earlier work was naturalistic and realistic, with vivid mood and atmosphere, but finely detailed and concrete. Then, years later, they became less vivid, less concrete, less realistic and naturalistic; but far more abstract, even geometrical and cubist. Finally, in the last paintings, the canvas became nonsense, or nonsense to me — mere chaotic lines and blotches of paint. I commented on this to Mrs P.

“Ach, you doctors, you’re such philistines!” She exclaimed. “Can you not see artistic development – how he renounced the realism of his earlier years, and advanced into abstract, non-representational art?”

Oliver Sacks, The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat.

 

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