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Prosthetic artist Robert Barron
January 3, 2003 7:09 AM   Subscribe

Prosthetic Artist Robert Barron creates new noses, eyes, ears and hands for people who have lost them to disease or injury, or who never had them in the first place. His talent and craftsmanship are staggering. As an artist, the "outrageous", self-congratulatory flavor-of-the-month trends in the contemporary art world leave me completely cold. Where talent and craftsman ship are eschewed in favor of concept and impossibly complex jargon, I find myself drawing inspiration more and more from work like this: useful, socially relevant, beautiful.
posted by Scoo (21 comments total)

 
Barron was recently the subject of a 60 minutes piece. His background was in making disguises for the CIA. He got the job through a fluke. He was a low level employee at the Pentagon, and hated the very long walk from the peon parking lot to the building each morning, so he forged a parking pass that allowed him to park more closely. When he finally got caught, they were so impressed with his expertise, that they moved him to another department.
posted by machaus at 7:19 AM on January 3, 2003


Yes, but... this person is not an artist, as in art-world artist. You are comparing apples and oranges. This guy makes tools, very impressive ones. A brilliant and talented craftsman is not necessarily an artist.
posted by davidfg at 7:25 AM on January 3, 2003


Warning: While not gratuitous in any sense, some of the photos are not for the squeamish.
posted by Mayor Curley at 7:27 AM on January 3, 2003


This guy's work is amazing -- I wonder how much maintainence is involved in applying the prosthetic each morning. I also found myself wondering what caused each mishap, which I guess is part of the point of getting the prosthetic. How many times does one want to explain where one's nose went?

As far as the "is it art?" argument goes -- don't go there. But I'm sure if this guy put his work on a pedestal, he could get a gallery.
posted by condour75 at 7:34 AM on January 3, 2003


condour75,

The loss of an eye, nose or even face can be the result of cancer or other process. Not necessarily from a "mishap."
posted by drstrangelove at 7:52 AM on January 3, 2003


I also found myself wondering what caused each mishap, which I guess is part of the point of getting the prosthetic.

The text on each specific prosthetic page lists some typical reasons the prosthetic is needed - including radical cancer surgery, amputation, burns and/or congenital defects.

The gentleman shown on the Full Facial Prosthesis page was also profiled on the 60 Minutes piece - he was trapped in a burning car. I also note that the ear prosthesis page shows a number of photos of his work for children .... one would presume that these are examples of congenital defects.

Yes, but... this person is not an artist, as in art-world artist. You are comparing apples and oranges. This guy makes tools, very impressive ones. A brilliant and talented craftsman is not necessarily an artist.

I would disagree with you - he is not only creating tools, he is also creating portraits (or at least partial portraits) of his subjects. Simply because his work is not displayed in the "art-world" doesn't mean he's not very clearly an artist, and a gifted one at that. Someone who was only a craftsman might create useful tools that didn't really restore the appearance of the wearer. My feeling is that limiting the word Artist to only those who display their work in the "art-world" is an awfully restrictive definition.
posted by anastasiav at 7:54 AM on January 3, 2003


Well I checked out the prosthesis pages, and I'm more depressed now than I have ever been in my whole life. The truly genius craftsmanship aside, I have never been confronted with such heart-breaking deformity. Call me a pessimist, but does anyone really believe that all the collective pain suffered by the human race validates the small amount of happiness also experienced? /overwhelmed by fear and sympathy
posted by dgaicun at 8:14 AM on January 3, 2003


I don't know much about art, but I know what makes me shudder uncontrollably.
posted by Samsonov14 at 8:33 AM on January 3, 2003


Yes, but... this person is not an artist, as in art-world artist. You are comparing apples and oranges.

Apples: Round, with depressions on the top and bottom, with a stem on one end. Usually red in color when ready for human consumption, but sometimes green or yellow. The flesh is white and moist. Sweet in taste, but often tart. I like to eat apples, particularly firm ones, and do so often.
Oranges: Also round, though without depressions, with a much smaller stem remnant. Orange in color when ready for human consumption. The flesh can be anywhere from orange to red, and extremely moist. Sweet in taste. I don't eat oranges very much, because dealing with the stringy bits and the seeds isn't worth the trouble.

I dunno, davidfg. That worked pretty well for me.
posted by waldo at 9:15 AM on January 3, 2003


davidfg, to embrace the "not in a gallery = not real art" point of view is to deny oneself a great many pleasures. The enjoyment of tree bark patterns and Jackson Pollack comes from the same place. I guess I'm a Constructivist at heart ("to unite purely artistic forms with utilitarian intentions" - Tatlin) in regards to my sense of aesthetics.

It's a bit like the difference between Body Building and World's Strongest man competitions. Body builders strut and preen like peacocks on stage. Form and symmetry is the goal, their strength training is merely an end unto itself. They don't actually DO anything with the results of all that hard work except look good.

In the World's Strongest Man competition, participants are required perform feats of strength to win the contest. Their training is a means to an end, it confers actual benefits to them beyond the contest. The barrel chested strong-man is the better physical ideal, because his body is a more capable machine.

Mind you, I'm not knocking art-for-art's-sake, if done right it's very nutritious for your mind and soul, but I feel like I'm getting more bang for my aesthetic buck from industrial design (i.e. iMac, Unimog, Aeron, etc. )
posted by Scoo at 9:16 AM on January 3, 2003


On a related note, Australian artist Ron Mueck makes ultra lifelike bodies (at slightly enlarged sizes), not for use as prostheses, but for use as art.
posted by jonson at 9:26 AM on January 3, 2003


Scoo: Your post invited a comparison between this guy's work and that of some avant-garde artists. I'm just pointing out that this is not really a valid comparison. This guy lives in a different universe and has different goals. You can find visual pleasure and inspiration wherever you want to, but you wouldn't say "Jackson Pollock is pretty good, but that guy who came up with tree bark really kicks his ass."
posted by davidfg at 9:51 AM on January 3, 2003


I disagree that this is a comparison of "visual pleasure and inspiration." It's a comparison of relevance. Many contemporary artists struggle to make their work relevant in a culture that has lost touch with reality, but they often end up looking more insane than the culture they're commenting on.

Barron's work makes lives livable for people that have suffered greatly. It is an "apples and oranges" comparison, but I think artists might learn that relevance does not always require tweaking the church people.
posted by letitrain at 10:13 AM on January 3, 2003


I envy Robert Barron for finding such meaningful work. At the end of each day, he can go home knowing that he has made someone's life better, sometimes drastically better. I hope he is paid well and his career lasts a long time.
posted by Holden at 10:31 AM on January 3, 2003


This article was on memepool a while back. Titled 'The Uncanny Valley' it spoke of how something just not human could be odder than something that wasn't trying so hard. That being said this guy's work looks like it always helps.
posted by Flat Feet Pete at 11:00 AM on January 3, 2003


Flat Feet Pete:
This slight complication had struck me, though not so precisely. It's not necessarily to be assumed that people will choose prostheses, for various reasons. I assume cost is one consideration. The stump of a missing finger may provide more useful function than a prosthesis. And also, judging by media accounts of people who have been scarred or disfigured, for many victims coming to terms with their situation involves taking an "I am what I am" view rather than trying to conceal it.
posted by raygirvan at 11:37 AM on January 3, 2003


As an artist, the "outrageous", self-congratulatory flavor-of-the-month trends in the contemporary art world leave me completely cold.

Huh. What's one supposed to say about this kind of hooey?
posted by RJ Reynolds at 12:29 PM on January 3, 2003


re: hooey
Are you referring to the links, the aforementioned self-congratulatory flavor-of-the-month trends, or my convoluted prose?
posted by Scoo at 2:05 PM on January 3, 2003


That is fantastic work, it really is. I just wonder about the guy with the full face prosthesis, what happens when he talks? Does he still look good, like in the stills, or does he suddenly look like a "walking dead man" as in the "Uncanny Valley"?
posted by chrid at 3:09 PM on January 3, 2003


Call me a pessimist, but does anyone really believe that all the collective pain suffered by the human race validates the small amount of happiness also experienced?

Huh? What does the one have to do with the other? Is there some limited amount which is being doled out unfairly? Why does happiness have to be validated in the first place (unless one gets happiness from others' suffering)? And, to misquote PJ O'Rourke: if you can't subtract from the misery in the world, do you have to add to it? And honestly, much of the time, such things are truly relative, they often seem worse when you're a "normal" person, imagining what it's like, than when you have to deal with it. IME, when most people have to deal with things, they just do. And many people who've survived near-fatal accidents and illnesses (like my mother) are happy to be alive, and any disfigurement they must deal with is very much secondary. I think this man's work is wonderful, great post, Scoo.
posted by biscotti at 3:24 PM on January 3, 2003


re: hooey
Are you referring to the links, the aforementioned self-congratulatory flavor-of-the-month trends, or my convoluted prose?


Hee hee. ;) I thought the sentence I picked out was at least two kinds of fallacy, and it really bugged me. This is still a great post.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 12:12 AM on January 4, 2003


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