A painted landscape can transport the viewer to a far-off vista through a recalled memory of a visited spot, or to an associated feeling or concept that the image evokes. Word recall similarly takes the listener to another place. For example, when spoken, the word “tree” can have many meanings, both surface and embedded, as recalled by the listener. Similarly, a painted image of a tree, though more concrete in representation than the spoken or written word, can still transport the viewer beyond the concrete by pinning itself to a seemingly endless list of events. Normally, we learn to filter out this potentially distracting array so that we can communicate with others and in our own inner dialogues.
Imagine, now, these same experiences encountered by an aphasic individual for whom the ability to categorize, list, or expand within a topic of conversation can be markedly impaired. Word-finding deficits compounded by attentional limitations, turn taking in conversation, or withdrawal from interaction related to fear of failure all can affect spontaneity of communication with others and with one’s self. Tapping into associations and memories to facilitate functional, readable expressive language, be it verbal, symbolic (e.g., writing), or gestural, is what I encounter during nearly every speech–language therapy session.
I work extensively within clinical settings as a speech–language pathologist, interacting with clinical staff as well as with the patients. My goal is to instill a sense of immediacy and clarity regarding the order of language reacquisition (in brief, in the English language for example, the rediscovery of comprehension, then utilization of nouns, verbs, adjectives, etc., combined with developing concepts such as “no,” “in,” “out,” “up,” and “down”) that takes the patient as well as the other medical staff to that “place” of interpersonal communicative awareness.
Painting minimalist landscapes has pushed me to delve into the combined viewpoints of the concrete and abstract—reconciling what is in front of me on the canvas with what the painted images call to mind. Through those moments at the canvas, I understand, if only fleetingly, how the mind can interact at many levels, a mystery which language cannot fully divulge.
Dean G. Loumbas, MSc, CCC-SLP