TGwaH Posted March 7, 2005 Report Share Posted March 7, 2005 I came across this article today in Canada's The Globe and Mail and after re-reading some of LGM's posts on guitar finishing and safety, I figured this article might be of interest to some. I'll post the whole article because the link will not last long. Suffering for art? Read this Artists who think safety rules don't apply to them are learning that toxic materials damage their health and threaten their careers, writes JOHN ALLEMANG By JOHN ALLEMANG Monday, March 7, 2005 Finding the perfect goggles and respirator weren't top priorities for sculptor Erika James when she attended art college in Vancouver a decade ago. But after just a few years of working with polyurethane resins in her home studio, she has been made dramatically aware that the creative impulse comes with toxic risks. "I'm losing my eyesight," James says in a calm voice that belies her urgent concerns. "I want to have a long career as an artist, but I already know my health is deteriorating." That combination of hope and anxiety led her to Toronto's Western Hospital recently, where she and dozens of other artists assembled for a seminar titled "How to Be an Artist -- and Not Kill Yourself in the Process." Art is a risky enough way to make a living -- add in the solvents, acids, heavy metals and dust particles that are a standard part of the artist's work and you have a lifestyle that can be extremely hazardous to your health. What makes this day-to-day exposure even worse is the widespread ignorance or indifference of many working artists, and that's what led glassworker Mimi Gellman to help organize the seminar, in conjunction with the Artists' Health Centre Foundation and the visual-artists association CARFAC . "Artists don't believe they're ever going to get old," she says, "and they don't believe anything can harm them." Having herself endured the agonies of a hydrofluoric-acid burn while etching glass, she's keen to make her fellow artists at least acknowledge the dangers that lurk in the studio. "If you don't have an awareness of the risks in your creative practice," she told her hospital audience, while a chorus of ambulance sirens wailed ominously in the background, "you're not going to have a very long career. I meet all kinds of artists who use solvents and can't figure out why they have bad eczema. Or people who work in a studio beside their bedroom and never have a break from their materials, and then can't understand why they feel bad." And it's not just rashes and morning-after nausea -- visual artists appear to be more susceptible to lung disease, lead poisoning and bladder cancer. "The criminal thing about all this," said guest speaker Ted Rickard, manager of health and safety at the Ontario College of Art and Design, "is that people allow themselves to get into this situation without knowing the risks." There's a long tradition of suffering for art, of course, but not all of the agonies are deliberately chosen. Rubens and Renoir were crippled by rheumatoid arthritis, and Paul Klee endured scleroderma. Researchers believe all three artists were exposed to extreme amounts of toxic heavy metals because their bright, bold paintings relied on pigments made with the likes of mercury sulphide, cadmium sulphide, lead, cobalt and manganese. (Duller earth tones are based on iron or carbon compounds and are much less harmful.) Then there's van Gogh, whose unbalanced visions are not just the product of an artistic temperament. Rickard showed a detail of a van Gogh sky and pointed out the way the artist's light sources are surrounded by haloes. This is usually seen as the artistic effect that Japanese corporations pay many millions for, but it could also be the consequence of optic-nerve damage -- van Gogh was notoriously sloppy with his paints and used to eat paint, savouring its lead-based sweetness. The eccentric van Gogh was not alone in ingesting paint -- many artists like to suck on their brushes to get a finer point for more detailed work. "You mustn't put your tools in your mouth," said Rickard, almost like he was talking to a kindergarten class. But the artists took his admonishments well -- bad personal habits, like eating in a workplace that happens to be filled with lead dust or storing nitric acid in old juice bottles, remain all too common in this largely unregulated profession. "We now have a rule at the college," said Rickard, who almost lost a faculty member to a quenching sip of ferric nitrate. "If you're going to recycle a bottle, you have to strip off the original label, re-label it and, if necessary, add a skull and crossbones." Artists aren't by nature fastidious rule-followers -- "anarchists" was one word Gellman used to describe her colleagues. "They think rules don't apply." Nonetheless, Rickard offered a few tips for a longer and healthier creative career: Aerosol sprays are extremely flammable -- don't use them with a cigarette hanging out of the corner of your mouth. If you work around dust, wear a good two-strap disposable mask -- otherwise it will get into your lungs and turn into cement. Have your blood tested for lead if you find you're chronically depressed, irritable, dizzy, fatigued or suffering from aches in the stomach and throat. At OCAD, students who get pregnant are encouraged to take time off school so that their fetus isn't harmed by the lead in the workshops and studios. Linseed oil can spontaneously combust -- if you're cleaning up a spill, wash out the rag afterward, or hang it up for a full week to dry rather than balling it up in the garbage where it could burst into flames. A mouthful of turpentine can kill a child. Don't use it unless you're determined to emulate a 15th-century master. If you're using rotary tools, beware of long hair, dangling sleeves, ties and hanging jewellery. "I've seen students wearing pendants who lean forward to do their welding," said Rickard. "They don't realize how hot the pendant has become until they stand straight up. But thank God the bare-midriff look is out -- we're not getting nearly as many tummy burns." After listening to Rickard's health and safety ideals, James decided she wasn't doing too badly. "I'm doing the best I can according to my finances," she said. "I can't go out and buy a $2,500 air purifier, but I have hooked up a bathroom fan in my studio." With hopes of extending her career, she's now planning to shift from the more toxic resins toward more natural materials. But that's where she comes up against the artist's age-old problem. "I'm known for doing these big plastic installations. That's where my expertise lies, and it's difficult to move away from it." Quote Link to comment Share on other sites More sharing options...
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