I was invited to speak on a pedagogy panel at the second meeting of the Health Humanities Working Group on December 6, 2019. My short talk included a rational for the Introduction to Health Humanities course I developed and will teach in Spring 2020. The talk also includes some insights on what we should be accomplishing in the Health Humanities classroom. Along the way I analyze Julian Schnabel’s plate painting The Patients and The Doctors. This painting, as an example of a neo-Expressionist palimpsest, offers us a way of theorizing the Health Humanities.
This painting was my muse when composing the syllabus for HUM 145. It’s rather large at 8 feet tall and 9 feet wide. At first glance it’s not aesthetically pleasing-–the background color reminds me of the table cloths in the nursing home dining where my grandmother worked as a nurse’s aid and then lived after my grandfather passed.
I like that the painting demands interpretation. Who is patient here? Who is the doctor? Where does one begin and the other end?
Among the shattered bits of crockery you can find whole pieces, but they seem out of place—and there is no whole set of dishes like you’d receive as a wedding present. Schnabel used bondo to connect the plates to the plywood. He then painted over some areas with expressionistic marks. He calls this activity making a palimpsest-–a book that been written over time and again because the parchment is more dear than the message written on it.
Or, as I think Schnabel would have it, a palimpsest is a stratified object that picks up meanings over times. Not uniformly because writing isn’t uniform. In some places the blank page will appear, in others the latest layer obscures what’s beneath, and others poke through unimpeded. Meanings aren’t uniform.
The Health Humanities Working Group brings together scholars who from institutions across Central New York to discuss interdisciplinary approaches to health scholarship and education.