Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Conquer Disabilities: Chuck Close

Imagine that you love painting. You love everything about it: the colors, the brushes, the process, the mess, the people, the objects, and liberation of your body and fingers as you let your creativity pour into the blank white space or canvas in front of you. You love to focus on painting detailed close-ups of human faces, with the eyes, lips, nose, the skin texture, and the raw emotions. Now, imagine that you were diagnosed with dyslexia and facial blindness. How will that affect your love for painting? Later on, imagine your situation if you were diagnosed with neuromuscular condition which prevents you from having full control of your muscles. Will that restriction change the way you love painting? If your answer is still "No, I would still paint," then imagine that you were paralyzed from the neck and below.

The scenario you envisioned above is a short synopsis of the life of Chuck Close, a multimedia artist from New York, who is very versatile as he paints using oil, water, acrylics, and more. He has received the National Medal of Arts, the highest honor for an individual artist, from President Bill Clinton in 2000. The unique characteristic of Close is that he suffered a collapse of an artery in the spinal cord which left him paralyzed from chest down. Despite this tragedy, he regained enough strength in his hands to paint again after some therapy. He argues it was not the actual therapy that helped him get his muscle movements back but the positive attitude he had to get back to his passion. He also suffers from neuromuscular weakness, learning disabilities, dyslexia, and prosopagnosia from childhood.

Close views his childhood as one of the primary ways he discovered his love for painting. Since he grew up in a family living in poverty, he had his fair share of  daily struggles.  Since he has trouble reading and focusing as a child, he used several different mechanisms such as sensory deprivation and attempting to concentration on one thing at a time. For example, he would stare out the window to listen to class because nature was constant, and he was able to isolate the voice of the professor easier. Similarly, he utilized painting as extra credit to show the professors he was interested in the subject rather than being ignorant. Both of these strategies are used in his painting strategies now. Once he discovered his passion, he gravitated towards what he is capable of doing despite his limitations. He uses sensory deprivation by painting differentiating variables. He would isolate color, constant increments, size, shape, and heads to focus on so he can overcome his disabilities to use what he can actually do. I was fascinated by how he was able to use only 3 colors, cyan, magenta, and yellow, to create flesh colors by the end. Furthermore, it is amazing how his brain was able to pick and mix colors that were so different to create the end product. He worked with constant increments, such as fingerprint and paper palates, to paint extremely detailed paintings; however, how he does so without errors is unknown. Another characteristic that surprised me was his detailed three-dimensional paintings of faces when he suffers prosopagnosia, face blindness. He has to work off of photographs of the people rather than the actual person, and he converted 2 dimensional photographs into 3 dimensions paintings in his head. He works by creating grids of 3 colors and converting smaller shapes into bigger sizes automatically. Although in a wheelchair, his paintings are more than 10 feet tall. Close managed his anxiety by approaching his problems one step at a time.

“If you break things down into smaller, incremental units,” Close says—whether it is faces, directions, or the process of reading—“then it's just one little piece of information at a time. Just one little decision, one little goal, and each can be a positive reinforcement.”

In Kaufman and Beghetto's Four C Models, Close would definitely be classified as a Big C creative. He not only created a new form of painting, he also won the highest award an individual artistic can win by the president of America. He had both intrinsic and extrinsic motivations to painting. The extrinsic motivation is that he can make a career and a living out of his talent. The intrinsic motivation is seen when he still continues to paint even after being paralyzed and in wheel chair. According to Smith and Ward, Close used divergent problem solving every time he was faced with an issue. For example, he found different and unique ways to incorporate his wheelchair into his painting room. He found ways to use limited motion, gained through therapy, into using it for the different painting techniques. He also tried different painting processes no one has ever used before, such as mixing the colors and using unique objects for his project as mentioned above. The same idea is also concluded in Weisberg's research. Problem solving happens when there is a connection between the problem at hand and the individual's knowledge, which will result in an appropriate and unique solutions as seen with Close. 

I learned from Close the importance of “problem-creating” rather than problem-solving. It is more creative to construct problems about a topic of interest because no one else’s answers are applicable. He overcame his neuronal issues through perseverance and positive attitude. His views on art are relatable to every aspect of a common man’s life, ranging from basic functions of body, studying something new, research, and/or hobbies. He is an inspiration for people of all ranges and proves that nothing can stop you from achieving your passion if you put the work into it.

To see the famous works and processes of Chuck Close, please watch these videos. 

Works Cited:

Smith and Ward - Chapter 23: Cognition and the Creation of Ideas
Weisberg - Chapter 4: Creative Problem solving
Kaufman and Beghetto - Four C Model of Creativity

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