Drawing the Eczema Aesthetic: The Psychological Effects of Chronic Skin Disease as Depicted in the Works of John Updike, Elizabeth Bishop, and Zelda Fitzgerald [Book Review]

Journal of Medical Humanities 31 (2):127-153 (2010)
How might the psycho-social effects of chronic skin disease, its treatments (and discontents) be figuratively expressed in writing and painting? Does the art reveal common denominators in experience and representation? If so, how do we understand the cryptic language of these expressions? By examining the works of artists with chronic skin diseases—John Updike, Elizabeth Bishop, and Zelda Fitzgerald—some common features can be noted. Chronically broken skin can fracture the ego or self-perception, resulting in a disturbed body image, which leads to personality disorders and co-morbid affective disorders such as anxiety and depression. The vertiginous feeling that results can be noted in the paradoxical characters, figures, and psyches portrayed in the works of these artists. This essay will examine the more specific ways in which artists disclose and/or conceal their experiences and the particular ways in which these manifest in their works. While certain nuances exist, the common denominators give us a starting point for developing an eczema aesthetic, a code for interpreting the ways in which artists’ experiences with skin disease manifest in their works
Keywords Eczema  Psycho-social effects of  Representation in art  Zelda Fitzgerald  John Updike  Elizabeth Bishop
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DOI 10.1007/s10912-010-9108-2
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