Is This the Greatest Father’s Day Painting Ever?
Last month I asked if Whistler’s Mother is the greatest Mother’s Day painting ever, so it only seems fair to pose a similar question on Father’s Day. Although Mother’s Day evokes thoughts of flowers and flowery cards, Father’s Day brings to mind bad ties and power tools. While Mary Cassatt may be the ultimate artist of the ideal of motherhood, thinking of the chief image-maker for the ideal dad is a bit harder. Perhaps the ideal painting of the ideal dad exists somewhere, but I prefer a great painting of a real, less-than-ideal father.
Artist fathers proliferate throughout art history. Tintoretto’s greatest pupil was his daughter Marietta, who would assist her father on painting projects dressed as a boy until she turned 16. Alas, only Marietta’s reputation (but no works ascribed to her) survives. Some suspect that Tintoretto’s late period of renewed skill and verve can actually be credited to his daughter’s talents. Charles Willson Peale raised a brood of painters, all named for Old Masters: Raphaelle, Rembrandt, and Rubens. (He also named a daughter after his female contemporary painter Angelica Kauffman.) Alexander Calder of the mobile and stabile learned sculpture from his father, Alexander Stirling Calder, and his grandfather, Alexander Milne Calder. If you look from a certain spot in the Philadelphia Museum of Art, you can see works by all three generations of Alexanders in a row. Similarly, N.C. Wyeth, Andrew Wyeth, and Jamie Wyeth comprise three generations of American painting stretching across more than a century.
Of all the things that I love about Renoir, perhaps the one that has increased as I’ve aged is how great he was at painting his own children, including future actor Pierre and future actor and filmmaker Jean. As I’ve written previously, the Late Renoir exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 2010 really impressed this side of the artist on me. Renoir’s famous for his voluptuous nudes, but it’s the warmth and humor of these portraits of his sons that stays with me whenever I see his art. Renoir had his children later in life, so I see him appreciating them more with the knowledge that his time with them could be short.
As great as those portraits by Renoir are, however, I really want to talk about a son’s portrait of a father rather than a father’s portraits of his sons. Paul Cézanne’s 1866 Portrait of the Artist’s Father (detail shown above) may not be the greatest Father’s Day painting, but it’s my favorite Father’s Day painting for several reasons. Paul’s father, Louis-Auguste, cofounded a banking firm that made his family rich. Although Cézanne was allowed to study art, his father pushed Paul into studying law. In 1861, however, Paul broke with his father and became a full-time artist. Although Louis-Auguste failed to understand Paul’s art, he eventually reconciled with his son and provided the financial support that allowed Paul to pursue his ground-breaking style.
By 1866, Louis-Auguste agreed to sit for a portrait—no small commitment given Paul’s slow painting style, which was better suited to inanimate objects such as fruit and mountains. One look at any portrait of Paul’s wife—dour and unsmiling—and you can feel the pain of anyone enduring the marathon sessions required. At some point, a bored Louis-Auguste picked up a newspaper and began to read. Resigned to his father’s impatience, Paul painted the newspaper in, but with one mischievous difference. Instead of his father’s preferred conservative paper, Paul put the more radical L'Événement in his hands. So, a paper Louis-Auguste wouldn’t be caught dead reading now rests in his hands for all eternity for all the world to see. I imagine Louis-Auguste seeing the final portrait, noticing the switch, and sighing the sigh all fathers sigh at the sight of their child poking fun at them, right before they smile with the knowledge that their child has found their own way in the world. For capturing all those tiny moments of fatherhood in one portrait, I’ll take Cézanne’s portrait of his bristly, but loving father any day. Happy Father’s Day!
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Researchers hope the technology will further our understanding of the brain, but lawmakers may not be ready for the ethical challenges.
- Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine successfully restored some functions to pig brains that had been dead for hours.
- They hope the technology will advance our understanding of the brain, potentially developing new treatments for debilitating diseases and disorders.
- The research raises many ethical questions and puts to the test our current understanding of death.
The image of an undead brain coming back to live again is the stuff of science fiction. Not just any science fiction, specifically B-grade sci fi. What instantly springs to mind is the black-and-white horrors of films like Fiend Without a Face. Bad acting. Plastic monstrosities. Visible strings. And a spinal cord that, for some reason, is also a tentacle?
But like any good science fiction, it's only a matter of time before some manner of it seeps into our reality. This week's Nature published the findings of researchers who managed to restore function to pigs' brains that were clinically dead. At least, what we once thought of as dead.
What's dead may never die, it seems
The researchers did not hail from House Greyjoy — "What is dead may never die" — but came largely from the Yale School of Medicine. They connected 32 pig brains to a system called BrainEx. BrainEx is an artificial perfusion system — that is, a system that takes over the functions normally regulated by the organ. The pigs had been killed four hours earlier at a U.S. Department of Agriculture slaughterhouse; their brains completely removed from the skulls.
BrainEx pumped an experiment solution into the brain that essentially mimic blood flow. It brought oxygen and nutrients to the tissues, giving brain cells the resources to begin many normal functions. The cells began consuming and metabolizing sugars. The brains' immune systems kicked in. Neuron samples could carry an electrical signal. Some brain cells even responded to drugs.
The researchers have managed to keep some brains alive for up to 36 hours, and currently do not know if BrainEx can have sustained the brains longer. "It is conceivable we are just preventing the inevitable, and the brain won't be able to recover," said Nenad Sestan, Yale neuroscientist and the lead researcher.
As a control, other brains received either a fake solution or no solution at all. None revived brain activity and deteriorated as normal.
The researchers hope the technology can enhance our ability to study the brain and its cellular functions. One of the main avenues of such studies would be brain disorders and diseases. This could point the way to developing new of treatments for the likes of brain injuries, Alzheimer's, Huntington's, and neurodegenerative conditions.
"This is an extraordinary and very promising breakthrough for neuroscience. It immediately offers a much better model for studying the human brain, which is extraordinarily important, given the vast amount of human suffering from diseases of the mind [and] brain," Nita Farahany, the bioethicists at the Duke University School of Law who wrote the study's commentary, told National Geographic.
An ethical gray matter
Before anyone gets an Island of Dr. Moreau vibe, it's worth noting that the brains did not approach neural activity anywhere near consciousness.
The BrainEx solution contained chemicals that prevented neurons from firing. To be extra cautious, the researchers also monitored the brains for any such activity and were prepared to administer an anesthetic should they have seen signs of consciousness.
Even so, the research signals a massive debate to come regarding medical ethics and our definition of death.
Most countries define death, clinically speaking, as the irreversible loss of brain or circulatory function. This definition was already at odds with some folk- and value-centric understandings, but where do we go if it becomes possible to reverse clinical death with artificial perfusion?
"This is wild," Jonathan Moreno, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, told the New York Times. "If ever there was an issue that merited big public deliberation on the ethics of science and medicine, this is one."
One possible consequence involves organ donations. Some European countries require emergency responders to use a process that preserves organs when they cannot resuscitate a person. They continue to pump blood throughout the body, but use a "thoracic aortic occlusion balloon" to prevent that blood from reaching the brain.
The system is already controversial because it raises concerns about what caused the patient's death. But what happens when brain death becomes readily reversible? Stuart Younger, a bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University, told Nature that if BrainEx were to become widely available, it could shrink the pool of eligible donors.
"There's a potential conflict here between the interests of potential donors — who might not even be donors — and people who are waiting for organs," he said.
It will be a while before such experiments go anywhere near human subjects. A more immediate ethical question relates to how such experiments harm animal subjects.
Ethical review boards evaluate research protocols and can reject any that causes undue pain, suffering, or distress. Since dead animals feel no pain, suffer no trauma, they are typically approved as subjects. But how do such boards make a judgement regarding the suffering of a "cellularly active" brain? The distress of a partially alive brain?
The dilemma is unprecedented.
Setting new boundaries
Another science fiction story that comes to mind when discussing this story is, of course, Frankenstein. As Farahany told National Geographic: "It is definitely has [sic] a good science-fiction element to it, and it is restoring cellular function where we previously thought impossible. But to have Frankenstein, you need some degree of consciousness, some 'there' there. [The researchers] did not recover any form of consciousness in this study, and it is still unclear if we ever could. But we are one step closer to that possibility."
She's right. The researchers undertook their research for the betterment of humanity, and we may one day reap some unimaginable medical benefits from it. The ethical questions, however, remain as unsettling as the stories they remind us of.
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