Art Vent

Letting the Fresh Air In


February 3, 2010

Tomorrow I leave Montpelier and the Vermont College of Art, flying back to NYC for gallery openings in Chelsea and, after a week away, am anticipating culture shock. Everybody here is so red-cheeked, sturdy, open and friendly, that I’d happily move in with any family that would have me. I love doing crits, meeting the students, delving into their interests, and the students in this low-residency MFA program (who come from all over the country) have been particularly satisfying in their willingness to grapple with new ideas. Last night fellow “critter” Lisa Sigal gave the artist’s talk, and it was engaging and refreshing: no “whys,” no biographical justification or self-psychoanalysis—she simply talked about what she does, how she does it, and let the work speak for itself. A couple of weeks ago I visited Judy Pfaff in her studio, a vast, rambling complex in Tivoli, NY, and I finally have a moment to post the pictures—although I wish I’d recorded the conversation as well, which touched on our shared antipathy to museum wall text.

January 28, 2010
Today, instead of writing a new post, I took a walk on the mountain. No one up there but me and the bunny tracks. I got down before everything turned gray and the wind started making the snow go sideways. Tomorrow I'm off to the city and next week to guest teach at the Vermont College of Art. I have a couple of posts saved up--pictures from my visit to Judy Pfaff's vast Red Hook studio, and one of the most heart-warming Facebook stories ever --which you'll see as soon as I can sneak an extra few minutes.
January 23, 2010
Jasper Johns, The Critic Sees, 1961

My very first blog post was about seeing and, as I mentioned awhile ago, I started vision therapy in the fall. Ever since reading about the Bates Method, and then the book, Take Off Your Glasses and See by Jacob Liberman, I’ve been interested in the behavioral approach to maintaining vision. I have 20/30 vision and an astigmatism, and while I have always been urged to wear glasses like the rest of my family, at some point I just stopped, and am convinced that the exercises I’ve done for many years on my own (learned through yoga class and the Liberman book), are the reason I’ve been able to see so well all these years.

The medical profession, however still remains skeptical. I find it very un-scientific that “scientists” often have opinions about modalities they know nothing about, based on whether or not they think they “should” work, or dismiss them when they know they work but don’t know how. Like the anesthetists who visited China in the 70s and observed people waving and smiling during abdominal surgery but made no changes in their practices, optometrists know about this stuff but doing things differently, I guess, would be just too much trouble. Example: the mainstream optometrist who once said to me during an examination, “If everyone did what you’re doing, they wouldn’t need glasses.” Duh. Okay, while I’m not naïve but get that anesthesiology has a lot to do with the pharmaceutical corporations (I’d not be surprised to learn that they’re now prevailing even in China), I doubt the makers of frames and lenses are that powerful or organized.

Anyway, I researched behavioral optometrists and scheduled an appointment in September with Dr. Theresa Ruggiero in Northampton (MA) for a regular checkup, with the concern that while I could always see (no trouble with distance or reading a telephone book) I found focusing in general was becoming something of a struggle. Dr. Ruggiero told me that it was an issue with “convergence,” a condition that glasses not only would not help, but could make worse. Since then I’ve had 45 minutes of therapy weekly, along with about 15 minutes a day of exercises at home.

What I’ve noticed is not so much a change in vision, but that I’m more relaxed, more mentally alert, and with less energy going into simply trying to see straight, have much more stamina. Some of the exercises consist of eye movements done with a metronome, which has been very difficult for me, as my eyes want to rush ahead. These are still challenging but I’m getting better, and find that I’m not rushing ahead in life so much either. In addition, retesting last week showed improvement in significant specific areas (they didn’t give tell me the percentiles when I started, because they’ve found people are often discouraged by them):

Reading comprehension went from 80% to 100%. (I remember scoring 100% in high school, so there was some loss over the years).

Eye tracking (the timed test consists of reading out loud numbers in columns vertically or spaced unevenly in horizontal rows) went from the 10th percentile to the 99th percentile.

Visual discrimination (discerning which images have slight differences, like those games in magazines) went from the 45th percentile to the 79th percentile.

Visual Memory—The test consists of looking at an image on a flash card briefly and then picking it out of a lineup, and I’m glad they didn’t tell me my original score on this one, because I started in the 7th percentile—shocking for an artist!—and am now in the 42nd, still shocking but better.

I mentioned to Dr. Ruggiero that while reading is easier but not entirely where I’d like it to be (letters a little fuzzy if too small), I’ve never had any problem doing the very precise and detailed work my art presently requires. She said that’s because reading happens in the brain with the translation of symbols into meaning, while with painting and drawing the whole body is involved.

I have six more months of therapy to go. Although most of it is covered by insurance, it’s a huge time commitment because of the commute—one hour each way—but the office tells me they’ve had patients come from as far away as Burlington (VT), a three-hour drive.

Everything changes with age and habit, and to have a physical trainer to help maintain strength, balance and posture, is considered fairly normal. It seems to me that this other aspect of our well-being, which has so much to do with brain function, also deserves regular attention. What if all children were tested in school, given corrective exercises to do daily, and it was something we maintained throughout life, like going to the dentist? Think about how many learning issues could be uncovered and corrected and, I believe from my experience, psychological ones—and how much more we could be getting out of life, simply by being more present to it.

To find a behavioral optometrist go to, and look for doctors with the initials FCOVD after their names. Cursory investigation in the New York area uncovered two institutions—the SUNY College of Optometry in Manhattan and the Ezra Medical Center in Brooklyn—that specialize in vision therapy. I welcome more information, as I know several people who are looking for such a specialist.

If you have access to The New Yorker digital archive, you can read more about Dr. Ruggiero’s work in an article entitled “Stereo Sue” by Oliver Sachs in the June 19, 2006 issue.
January 22, 2010
I recently had a dispute with a provider over a $250 charge. When it was clear that we couldn't reconcile, I suggested donating that amount to a Haiti relief fund. They agreed, and now we all feel good about it. This is a way of making peace as well as providing for others, a win/win situation. Please pass it on!

PS: If you try this, let me know how it goes with a comment.
January 14, 2010
Car wash, Northampton, MA

Same price, though.

The sign that got away: the marquee at the Cinema 7 in Bennington (VT) listing "Avatar," "It's Complicated," and "Sherlock Homes," which I hear is about a developer.

January 11, 2010
I'm too music-obsessed (currently Miike Snow--who you can hear here) to think about art, making my annual mix for friends, which has led me to revisit some great music videos, such as this cover of Tears for Fears "Mad World" by Gary Jules:

Bat for Lashes's recent "Daniel" is high on my mix, but her video of a couple of years ago, "What's a Girl to Do," which my friend, Catherine played for me the other day, has to be one of the best. Unfortunately "they" (whoever they are) won't let me embed it, but you can find it here.
January 5, 2010

Abandoned railroad cars, Housatonic, MA, 1/5/2010
From real-life and FB friend, Scott Edward Cole's Daily Photo Diary on Facebook.