Painting from Memory: Aging, Dementia, and the Art of Willem de Kooning

Timothy J. Clark, Caroline Tanner, Laurens Park White
November 1995
Photo of Timothy J. Clark.

This challenging volume brings together the disciplines of medicine and art criticism around the perplexing work of Willem de Kooning, whose substance use, late dementia, and artistic production have been widely debated in recent years. Dr. Caroline Tanner presents an overview of the kinds of dementia that may be affecting de Kooning and clinical realities about the loss of mental faculties. She stresses that loss of brain function can affect certain types of thinking (speech, memory, perception) while leaving others intact. This, both she and Dr. Laurens Park White suggest, must be factored into any project that would explore the possible role of dementia in the changes that occur in de Kooning’s artistic production.

Professor Timothy J. Clark’s discussion examines parallels between the “early” and “late” de Kooning. He suggests that the later paintings may very well be distillations of earlier, more complex works into the simple lines and underlying forms on which de Kooning’s studied disordering of the senses may have ultimately relied for its disruptive brilliance. He further draws into question the practice in art criticism of assuming that a critic or scholar must find a quantitative or qualitative link between the various periods of an artist’s life, and suggests that such an apparatus may overlook some of the dynamism and experimentation in which artists engage.

Please note: this volume is no longer available for purchase.