A painting's "aura": repost


This was originally posted in October 2008. With over 600 posts on The Flying Trilobite now, I've been re-posting a few from time to time. Incidentally, the artwork featured here is available for purchase in a variety of card and print formats.

Reprinting today because originals versus prints has been on my mind again lately. Make sure to check the original post for the insightful comments there. 
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Today, I'd like to touch on how the artist feels about their own work, and its "aura", and how that differs for the Fine Artist versus the Illustrator. And no, I haven't lost my skeptical, rational mind.


The idea of a painting's aura is one I remember being presented without judgment by the prof in university. The concept has stayed with me.It's the notion that original paintings have an "aura" that emanates off the paint & canvas surface. Almost as though the original painting has a soul, or a living presence you sense when looking at it. It adds to their specialness. You have not truly experienced the painting until you've seen it in person. Our teachers tried to impart that this is mainly a macho, modernist idea.





In Fine Art, the modernist period was something fairly specific. To sum it up all too briefly, modernism in 
painting was "paintings with the subject matter of paint". You weren't painting a still-life of an apple: you were painting red paint. As an example, think of something by Rothko, or Pollock. Giant humongous canvases, covered usually in a couple of dominating colours. There was a lot of baggage that went along with this type of work, including that they should not ideally be viewed as reproductions.
Post-modernism in the fine art world, was (again, gross oversimplification) about deconstructing those modernist ideals of pure paint and pure sculpture, and of overthrowing the unique. A post-modern piece of art could contain both a painting and sculpture adjacent asone piece. Take that, modernist!
To look at one example, modernist Charles Demuth created the painting Figure Five in Gold, (1928). Classic Modernism, interplay of colour over a familiar, somewhat random symbol (5) we all know. It's distinct, and certainly was in '28.

Post-modern painter Robert Indiana created this painting,The Figure Five, (1963) as a way of overthrowing the originality of Demuth's Five. He disrupted the original by Demuth's claim to importance by making it one of many instead of unique. I see it as kind of a fine art world version of "screw you".


So paintings may have an aura you can only feel in the presence of the actual artwork, not a reproduction? Not likely. This smacks of vague New Age-y feelings-as-fact. I wondered about this idea for a long time. An exhibit, entitled 7 Florentine Heads came to the Art Gallery of Ontario, and I remember there was to be a Da Vinci drawing included. When I saw it, I anticipated the moment. I frickin' love Da Vinci, and his interest in science as well as hissfumato technique. I looked at each drawing in turn. Looked at one, read the placard, and saw it was his. I got an involuntary shiver down my back. Was it the aura?

Even back then in my proto-skeptical days, I knew there wasn't. I only felt it's "specialness" after reading who it was by. Looking only at the drawing, I saw another example of excellent work by a Renaissance artist. Context mattered to the aura, it seemed.
Which brings me to addressing the photos of posters peppered throughout this post. Is one of the differences between an illustrator and a fine artist -at least, a modernist one- how they feel about a painting's uniqueness and supremacy of being the original? 

Recently, the artist (and good friend of mine) Christopher Zenga took his artwork online for the first time. And when discussing how the first couple of posts about his Zombears looked glowing off of the computer screen, Chris remarked to me, that he just sat back and stared at them; he was entranced by his own artwork reproduced in a different medium. 

Chris is right. I was elated for months looking at my paintings and drawings online, and knowing others might see something of value there. Do I have a fondness for the originals? Of course. Some are hanging in my living room. And yet there is an undeniable thrill to walk down the streets of Toronto and see a poster up with artwork I laboured over.
Starting with a discussion on the nature of art over at Laelaps, author of Renaissance Oaf Sean Craven has had a lot of excellent points about whether how to judge if a piece of artwork can be deemed "art".

I would put forth there is a difference between art created for the purpose of Illustration, and Fine Art, and a small part of that difference is in how the artist feels toward reproductions. The tingly feeling is enhanced when the image leaps forth to new media and many eyeballs.

The photos throughout this post were taken downtown at the University of Toronto campus, and are of my posterfor the October 2008 lecture by PZ Myers presented by the Centre for Inquiry Ontario


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The Aura of Oil - classic Flying Trilobite

(This post originally appeared here on The Flying Trilobite back in November 2008.)
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The aura of painting exists in the mind of the viewer, and in some cases the mind of the illustrator when seeing their own work reproduced. The idea of paintings having an aura or presence is something that has fascinated me since university, as discussed last week. Some excellent comments were made by artists Sean Craven and Chris Zenga, check it out.

Okay so from my non-scientific anecdotal samplings and personal experiences (oh the sins against science I commit! I will say ten ATP-->ADP reactions in penance), I doubt the existence of original paintings having a quasi-mystical aura or emitting a presence to the viewer. You can read a bit more about this "aura of authenticity" from an art historical perspective 
here, and from the side of new age-laced artsy language here (10th paragraph), and here.

It's head-shakingly amazing how fear for loss of the aura is dovetailed with a fear of technology. 

Is there anything special or unique then, about an original painting that does not lie entirely within the biases of the viewer? In case of oil paintings, I say yes. And looking at last week's comments, Chris Zenga guessed the point of this week's Artwork Monday while thinking about a D.N.A Candle Vanitas painting I gave to him and his wife for their marriage (at rightoriginal post here). 

I love oil painting. I enjoy the scent of the oil, and the buttery consistency flowing 
together under a horizontally-held fan brush. And most of all, I love the depth glazing can bring about in the final work.

Oil painting differs from other types of painting in many ways. Oils do not evaporate as they dry like watercolour or acrylic painting; instead they absorb oxygen from the air. This is called a siccative quality. The way I think about this, is like the oxygen molecules are pineapple chunks being added to Jell-o in a confined bowl. Adding more will increase the density and stop the Jell-o from jiggling. I don't know that this is a chemically-apt description, so please feel free to tell me there's not room for Jell-o in the comments if I am mangling the science of siccatives.

For this reason, it's important that oil paintings are painted in thin layers with an increasing amount of oil in successive layers. It allows the oxygen to permeate evenly over the course of six months to a year after painting, and helps prevent cracking. The rule is referred to as "fat over lean".

So oil paintings, particularly by Renaissance and Baroque masters, contained many thin, mostly transparent layers of paint, each tinted with a little pigment. And herein lies the aura of a painting viewed live versus online.

When light hits all these layers of oil, it permeates each oily membrane and begins to reflect back out. But some photons will bounce back into the oil layers off of the pigments, and back to the lower layers before pinging back out of the painting, and onward to the viewers eyes. This optical effect literally creates a glow. It's also the reason for the incredibly deep blacks often found in the backgrounds of portraits.

So the illusion of depth in an oil painting can be profoundly eye-catching, and similar to looking at objects in water, the oil-glazes draw our eyes and captivate our pattern-seeking centers, making the paint feel alive. No unscientific aura necessary, just wonderful chemistry interacting on our biology.


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Original artwork on The Flying Trilobite Copyright to Glendon Mellow under Creative Commons Licence.

Fossil Boy, Diatom Girl - repost

(This week I'm reposting some of the posts from the past 4 years I consider noteworthy.  Wednesday, "Inspiration and Drugs". Thursday, "Science Vocabulary = Better Art".  Today, here is a post from December 2009.)
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Our final project for my Drawing & Narrative class was more or less open. I decided to continue exploring ammonite fossils, hands, and some diatoms. 


For a long time, I've used diatoms along with images of my wife, Michelle. Diatoms are beautiful algae that create complicated geometric structures from silica, and look like beautiful glass ornaments. They help create oxygen, which is a nice thing for an asthmatic like me to associate with my wife in a metaphorical life-sustaining way. The fossils are kind of a proxy for me. Part of the suggested outline for the assignment included making a book, and images of family. 

Three of the most difficult things to draw are the face, hands, and feet. (Fore
shortening is a whole other problem.) I love drawing hands, so I looked at this as a challenge. I decided I would add some torn paper elements as well. While working on my rough sketches, our professor suggested including some elements with the Fibonacci sequence, and looking up artists Mario Merz. I've done some sketches using Fibonacci numbers before, when I was working onDan RhoadsMigrations blog banner. I tried to use it as a compositional device.

Almost in its entirety, (a snippet is lopped off from the edges), here are the drawings from the series Fossil Boy, Diatom Girl.


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Science Vocabulary = Better Art - repost

(This week I'm reposting some of the posts from the past 4 years I consider noteworthy.  Yesterday, "Inspiration and Drugs". Today, here is a post from July 2009.)


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Today in keeping with the general discussion of evolution culture (see Goldstein's article) and evopunk (see badassRenaissance Oaf) I thought I would re-post a piece I originally wrote for Alternate Reality Existence back in May 2009. 

(The painting Symbiosis was at one time, my personal benchmark as a painting so I threw it in there.) 

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An Increase In Our Allegorical Vocabulary
 

Realism in painting has a long history, from the linear narratives of the ancient world to the shattered realities of the Twentieth Century. For the lay-gallery-goer, the artwork of the Renaissance Masters, Symbolists, and the Surrealists captures the viewer's gaze through the feat of technical ability. Immediately recognizable figures surrounded by unfamiliar objects help the viewer to enter the unusual world by connecting through the shared human experience. 


In my own painting, this is the sort of challenge I place in front of myself. The recognizable objects are the hook: the less-familiar organisms are the mystery that invites people to look further. Science, paleontology and biology have always figured into my work. The natural world is full of a staggering variety of forms to challenge a representational artist. 


About a dozen years ago, I had a gallery show that encouraged me to pursue this path with renewed vigor. This oil painting, entitled Symbiosis, was garnering a fair bit of attention from friends and visitors attending the show's opening. A coffee-shop colleague and zoology-major stopped me and asked, "Ok -if this makes no sense to you, forget it- but is that a tardigrade?" I smiled and replied that it was, and she grinned, "Oh I could tell. They have those distinctive hooked feet!" 

That was inspiring. Art for scientists who get it. Symbiosis, about the microbes in our ecosystem and in our guts. In these scientifically exciting times, why not stretch the public perception and appeal to everyone's curiosity? Why not delight scientists in their myriad disciplines? 


When Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion debuted, I was excited, having enjoyed his previous books. In it, he held a challenge for every artist. If you are interested in science -atheist, agnostic, Bright, or not- take the time to consider this artistic call-to-arms: 


"If history had worked out differently, and Michelangelo had been commissioned to paint a ceiling for a giant Museum of Science, mightn't he have produced something at least as inspirational as as the Sistine Chapel? How sad that we shall never hear Beethoven's Mesozoic Symphony, or Mozart's opera The Expanding Universe." 
(Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, p 86-87) 

Will we see a scientifically-inspired artistic genius of that stature this century? It is my sincere hope that we we will. The world deserves to be that inspired, and to experience the wonder scientists engage in our universe. 


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Original artwork on The Flying Trilobite Copyright to Glendon Mellow

Inspiration+ Drugs - repost

(This post originally appeared in August 2008 here on The Flying Trilobite.  Lots of fascinating comments on that post too - check 'em out.  I thought I'd re-post it for new readers.  Comments and debate welcome.)- -
So here's the thing.

While in University, and continuing to today, I'll show somebody examples of my work for the first time, and I will hear, "Whoa, so just what are you onman? Must be some good s--t!"

Yeah, the good s--t is my brain. My creativity. My diverse range of interest and my hard-won madskillz with a pencil. My brain dwarfs other brains. And I can tell you why.


I've been attempting to write this post for a long time now. It's a hard one to write without sounding smug and preachy or after-school-special. So I'm just throwing it out there in plain language and not worrying too much about it.

I don't drink alcoholic beverages, and I don't do recreational drugs, and I follow no religion. Period. Never have, and likely won't. Over the course of an entire year, I maybe polish off one glass of wine divided up over New Year's, a random evening and my wedding anniversary. I should probably drink a bit of wine for the health effects. Keep meaning to do that.

Let me cut off some common assumptions at this point: I really really don't care if other people drink alcohol. It is not something I do, but I am not passing some kind of moral judgement on people either. In a free and open society, I am free to not drink and think you're cool. No need to explain to me how it's really good I don't drink, and you admire it, or to accuse me of accusing you of wrongdoing. Telling me my coffee-drinking is "at least something, kind of wimpy, but something," makes me laugh.

I don't drink or do drugs for a bunch of reasons, but here's one of the largest. As I emerged like a delicate, lumbering butterfly into my University years, I was asked "what I was into" more and more. And in my first year survey course of Western Art, we began talking about Hieronymous Bosch. Bosch did fascinating things, unreal visions of heaven and hell with the most unlikely structures made from the tools of alchemy. And a theory we were presented with, very popular and assumed to be true by my peers, was that ergot of rye in the fields near the artist were causing Bosch to experience the effects of very mild LSD.

Everyone nodded. Of course. It was instantly assumed this is where his genius and creativity stemmed from.

It was an outrage! An outrage because what if it wasn't ergot of rye? A great disservice to a great mind. It was an outrage because in my view, it smacked of complacency by my fellow art students. Wanna push your art further? Drugs. Worked for Bosch.

If it was true, than my mind would be unremarkable without intentional damage inflicted upon myself. No thanks. I needed to hold fast against the weak undercurrent of peer pressure and create fantastic, unreal images in the face of pure sobriety.

I'm not the next Hieronymous Bosch. I'm doing what I do. My body suffers from asthma, and I have some medications I take regularly, daily, along with a love for coffee. Throwing more into the mix will not help. One day, will someone cite my puffers as the source of my creativity? I hope it is not the case.


And I spoke above of my thoughts on alcohol, how do I feel about drugs?

I think they are kind of lame. (There I go, sounding like an after-school special.) I am especially weary of marijuana. It is so present and so popular now, you can't escape it at parties. And users always want to tell me all the scientific facts they know, about how it's no worse than alcohol, they only use it sometimes to fall asleep, I've studied it way more than you, blah blah blah. You know why it bugs me? Because alcohol stays in your glass and on your breath, but marijuana goes into everyone's lungs. Smoking marijuana is lame and selfish.

I am writing this post not to judge others, but to judge myself. Perhaps it is not an achievement to be visually creative without drugs, and this is seen as nothing more than a fearful person stamping their foot saying "I don't wanna". In my view, my brain dwarfs many other brains. My synapses are intact, my dendrites and neurons hum happily. This creativity is mine, and not the product of liquid or inhaled inspiration.

I'll reiterate, I really don't judge others by what substances they use for fun. Friends say I'm fun at parties. I simply get cross when someone gets pushy or insulting by wondering what drugs/alcohol/religion I am on, and won't believe I can live without those things.

Please feel free to disagree on this touchy topic, and make comments.

Oh, and cheers!

This week I am re-posting a few pieces previously posted due to the topic. In order, these pieces are entitled, from the top, Anthropomorphic GestationKnowledge Pupates, & Asthma Incubus.

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Original artwork on The Flying Trilobite Copyright to Glendon Mellow

Mother Mars

An older oil painting of mine, embodying the Mother Nature on Mars and the ALH84001 meteorite. (Portions of this post are reposted from May 2008, with new images.) Click to enlarge.



This image appears in my latest calendar. Did you know you can choose which month my calendars start in?
Click here to check calendar collection 3





This painting was inspired by the Martian meteorite, ALH84001 and the inscription is carved into the rock in the bottom left.


The figure represents a mythology that never-was, the personification of Mother Nature on the planet Mars, wasted and haunting.



After struggling with a "mermaid's purse" shark egg to represent the false hope of organisms on Mars, I eventually attended a lecture at the University of Toronto where the topic of discussion was the possible discovery of fossil remnants in a meteor that originated on Mars. I learned about the magnetite chains found in the meteor, and watched a video of the cute little microbes whipping this way and that, following a moving magnet. I replaced the shark egg with an enlarged, ruptured microbe immediately.



Until that lecture, this painting sat unfinished and abandoned for over a year, and I was sure I would paint over it. It's something I seldom do, but I really wasn't fond of it. The addition of the magnetite-bearing microbe made all the difference to me.



The face was a sort of riff on the infamous hill-face on Mars, later proved to be simply a low-res, shadowed coincidence. I felt the debunked image lent a certain poignancy to Mother Mars.



Mars is what we make it. Perhaps a future mission will find signs of life in the Martian arctic? If not, it continues to be a planet of hope, and one we invest more myths, ideas and dreams in than any planet other than our own.



Here is one of Phoenix's photos of the Martian arctic:


© NASA

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Original artwork on The Flying Trilobite Copyright to Glendon Mellow

Repost: Gaps in the artistic record


Anthropometry - ©  Glendon Mellow 2010
Occasionally any artist or illustrator will question their direction and portfolio.  Here's a post that originally appeared in March 2009 where I had a look at myself. Has anything changed?

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A brief list of art I'm missing to be considered the following type of artist:

Scientific Illustrator
-Cut away view of fish or of the Earth's crust with little labels
-Skeletal outline for clarity
-Heavily airbrushed, smooth view of pink & blue lungs
-Colourful landscape of organisms that would normally be hiding from each other

Pseudo-scientific Illustrator
-pulsating food morsel/medicine/sport drink going down gridded simplified human body to pulsate stronger in stomach
-simple diagram of human body with labels of animal names or words like "virtue" and "3rd eye"
-elegant watercolours of St. John's Wort and echinacea
-illustration with pyramids and lots of glittery silver

Paleo-Fantasy/SF Illustrator
-Leopard-bikini wearing woman riding mutant theropod with horns
-Innocent waif girl with clunky robot friend
-Herbivore & carnivore dinosaurs looking up in shock at UFO
-Blue shadowy background with PVC-wearing woman carrying two ridiculously huge and complicated guns

Fine Artist
-Object made from my own body or my trash
-Mash-up of multiple impermanent materials: painting on a cake left to go moldy and filmed for YouTube
-Painting "referencing" another artist's work, while allegedly subverting it
-Painting something vague that could be better explained in an op-ed column

Where do I fit, categorically? At ScienceOnline09, [and again for ScienceOnline2011], I used 5 categories about science-art that differ from these.

Art in awe of science sums it up enough.

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Original artwork on The Flying Trilobite Copyright to Glendon Mellow

Classic trilobite: referencing, gazing and Mitochondrial Eve

[Originally posted September 21st, 2008.  Hat tip to Jeska Corena for quoting the post.]

This week, I've been thinking a lot about social-consciousness in art. Y'know, being political and having a message for the public sphere.

There's some reasons for my preoccupation.

Tyler Handley at The Edger wondered how to classify atheist art. Jessica Palmer at Bioephemera shows the tension between illustration/photojournalism and fine art, and how poorly played it can both enhance and upset a career. Coturnix at A Blog Around the Clock has an interesting round-up of articles about art about science; I'm struck by how many are about global warming, but not surprised.

Social activism and controversies are always a part of the fine artists' agenda. It's not surprising. And it's a good thing the global warming crisis is a part of the agenda! I remember in university about 10 years ago, some wag put up a list of "10 images to be an art hack" too high up on a support pillar to take down. On it were things like, "Coca-Cola logo" (to signify evil corporations), "Kate Moss" (to signify male-controlled body image), "fetus" (to signify the abortion debate).

My friends and I used the term, "shake and bake" for this type of art; by putting an image on canvas of say, Kate Moss you were automatically addressing bulimia, women's body image, the perpetuation of the male-gaze in art, heroin chic (Trainspotting was a big movie when I was in Uni) and being "ironic" and "conflicted" by both showing her and "referencing" her. Ooo, edgy, a half-naked painting of a photo of Kate Moss.

Referencing was a big buzz word in Fine Art back then. It meant copying something, or including it in there. It was supposed to be a dialogue, while perhaps being vague on what you were saying.

It meant you didn't have to come up or reveal a new conflict to the viewer, you simply added to the dialogue. Shale and bake. Truly new conflicts were hard to smash through with. In my own small way, I tried. After reading River Out of Eden by Richard Dawkins over and over, I tried numerous pieces about the Mitochondrial Eve concept. It enthralled me that we could figure out things like this bottleneck in our prehistory. But it wasn't new of the day, so it was hard to spread the wonderment. Frustrating.

Here is that painting, Mitochondrial Eve:



Not perhaps my strongest work back then, and I've almost painted over it a few times. This one was painted on an antique wood panel to prevent warping, using traditional materials (rabbit-skin glue....eewwww) so it will likely look at me with it's not-up-to-my-standards look for quite some time.
I had roommates also in the Fine Arts, one majoring in dance, one in theatre. We'd joke a bit that in both their disciplines, collaboration is essential; whereas in visual art, you're expected to stand smoking in the corner saying, "They're all hacks, no one understands my genius. puff".





But back to social messages. Are they all shake and bake? All instantly microwaveable into some sort of painting/sculpture/installation that everyone brings their own political/social/media-savvy background to?


No. There can be something strong enough to break through and galvanise people. But I think the world of visual Fine Art is tough. We are surrounded by astounding images every day, so standing still and letting a painting perform long enough to affect one's mindset as it unravels and wraps up a viewer is a difficult thing. I try it from time to time.


And once, I was so overcome, I simply sat down in the middle of the gallery, on the floor. I stretched my legs out, and just enjoyed the still oil painting on the wall and let it affect me. Security didn't mind this gothy-punk just sitting there; I was causing no harm and others could walk around me. And the painting was marvelous. I consider it now my very favourite. Science and myth thrown together on a canvas. John Atkins Grimshaw's Iris. (The science comes from the part you cannot see in a photo: thin glazes of oil forming a rainbow following the tragic arch of Iris's body).


Try it. Find an image about a current issue like global warming. Perhaps it's a block of ice in a gallery kept at temperatures cool enough to drip only slowly, or tiny plastic polar bears on the floor of the gallery. Perhaps something on the computer screen, something from antiquity, something in your local museum or art gallery or a book.


Ponder it slowly.


Be unafraid to find it shallow.


Be unafraid to say, "that's it?"


Be willing to enjoy the art of the small message for its small message.


And keep moving on, and slowing down to look until one commands your gaze. Let it mesmerise you with its memes and forms. My hope is that it will provide a rallying point for rationality in its beauty.


[Comments on original post here.]
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Flying and Asthma - repost

One of the most popular things I have ever posted here is due to search engines.  I have asthma, and posted a drawing about what it feels like, and because of the word "flying" in my blog's title, a lot of people come here looking for information about taking puffers on planes and asthma in general.

Summer is here, smog warnings are up, and the post has gone up in frequency. Here it is again.  
Originally posted in May 2008, and worth going back to to see the original comments it generated.  If you like the art, I experimented with an updated version.


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The Flying Trilobite already receives a lot of pageviews due to a steady stream of people searching about being an asthmatic and flying (in an airplane, I presume). I thought it may be somewhat useful for me to therefore pen a post on the subject. The reason so many asthma-sufferers find this blog, I believe is because of the post I did of a drawing called, Asthma Incubus back in May of 2007.

If you are reading this blog for the first time, then welcome! Drop in for the 
asthma, stay for somepaintings inspired by the awe of modern science. I am an artist living in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Please don't be frightened by the atheism. With atheism comes a healthy dose of skepticism, which you will need if you are suffering from asthma and don't know where to turn next. And anyway, the way I see it, when it comes to asthma relief, it just means instead of thanking god(s), I thank the fine scientists, pharmacists and chemists that have helped save more lives than prayer ever has.

Without skepticism someone may try to wave their hands over you or ask you to carry a small doll to cure your asthma, and while both could be entertaining, you and I both know it's hard to laugh when your lungs feel like they weigh 200 pounds and are made out of bags of rusty harmonicas.

So to begin: a caveat, a warning, a caution. I am an artist, 
not a medical respirologist. If you are looking for relief from your wheezy lungs, I strongly, mightily urge you to seek out a "Western" medically-trained respirologist and asthma clinic that keeps up on the latest advances in drugs to ease your lungs back into contributing members of your chest cavity. All I will share in this blog are anecdotes, individual stories about asthma, which is not how you should make a diagnosis! Medicines and remedies using double-blind, empirical and statistical trials are the ones to trust. Your respirologist will know which ones. I would also suggest checking out The Asthma Society of Canada for some up-to-date "'evidence-based', market-tested, " information on a regular basis.

Also to begin: some reassurance. I am a skeptic, and I will 
not try to sell you on the idea of water-pills, drinking urine, homeopathy, acupuncture, taking something just because it is "all-natural", or rearranging mythical chakras. If people seriously think they are helping you with this advice, I would strongly advise you to laugh, ask them to explain further, laugh some more, and do nothing they tell you to treat your asthma. If you are unsure of whether something someone suggests is pure nonsense or not, look for information that has piles of trustworthy studies behind it. To get you started, check out The Skeptic's Dictionary, particularly under "Alternative Medicine".

Oh, and get your children vaccinated too. It doesn't cause asthma, and will save their lives.

So, flying with asthma.

I have flown a number of times in my life so far, probably about 8 trips there and back again. As I said, I live in Toronto, and I have flown as far away as Aruba and Calgary, some 6 or 7 hours at a stretch. I have taken numerous shorter flights from Toronto to Montreal on a variety of airlines; Air Canada, Westjet and Porter, small planes and large ones.

My asthma has been diagnosed as "brittle", though that seemed to be a mistake; I have never fallen unconscious, even in my worst heart-pounding, suffocating moments. The most recent diagnosis was "moderate persistent asthma".

I haven't had any trouble flying with asthma. Whew! I know, all this preamble to find out you should be okay! Modern planes are pressurised so the air will not be thin as you fly up to 35'000 feet. A smaller plane, you may feel light-headed I guess. I have hiked in the Blue Mountains of Virginia before up to 4'000 feet, and I could still breathe and carry a 60 pound backpack.

Flying in a plane is exciting, and I am not jaded by the experience yet. So, sometimes I will need to take a puffer during the duration of the flight, but ask your doctor, or use your own experiences to see if this is necessary. For myself, I do not experience any sudden tightening of the chest, and I suspect I may take it in those moments larger as a psychological comfort. Perhaps the next time I fly I'll skip it if I can and see how it goes.

Most puffers are pressurised canisters, and there seem to be no negative effects on these in a plane. They do not explode or leak. Again, a pressurised cabin would give the canister a steady barometric pressure, and it will function as though you are on the ground. Take your medications in-flight with you in your carry-on luggage. Be comfortable, and relax. Get a window seat and enjoy the flight.

Currently, I take two medications to treat my asthma. One is preventative, and another for fast relief in moments of distress. A while ago, I switched away from a ventolin inhaler to Airomir, and I find I am sleeping better at night. I recommend it. (
Ask your doctor!) My wife also informs me that I am not jerking my full body in my sleep anymore the way I used to once a night. There are a lot of options on the market, and you should work with your respirologist to see what works for you. A new medication, which I will not name, gave me some anxiety attacks when in combination with another puffer. My doc said it happens in a small samples of patients, about 5% of cases. So I switched.

I hope this has been helpful. Asthma is manageable, and sufferers have many options to help nowadays. If, however, I am wrong and there is some folklore I do not know about and people are finding this blog to learn about flapping their arms like Icarus and flying while suffering some asthmatic-like effects afterward, I have only one response.

"Umm." 


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The Flying Trilobite Copyright to Glendon Mellow
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