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Art And Images in Psychiatry |

Before and After and Superman  Andy Warhol

James C. Harris, MD1
[+] Author Affiliations
1Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Developmental Neuropsychiatry, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland
JAMA Psychiatry. 2014;71(1):7-8. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2013.2705.
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When 8-year-old Andy Warhol made odd shaking movements in school, he was teased and bullied by his peers. When the movements persisted and worsened, he received a diagnosis of Sydenham chorea (historically known as St. Vitus dance), an autoimmune complication of group A β-hemolytic streptococcal infection2,3; it is a neurological variant of rheumatic fever. In Warhol’s childhood, it affected about 20% of children who, like Warhol himself, had received an earlier diagnosis of scarlet fever. Although Warhol (born August 6, 1928) recalls 3 episodes during the summer months (first epigraph), only 1 episode (with a relapse) is documented; it kept him out of school for about 8 weeks. As his movements resolved, his mother gave him comic books and movie magazines to look at, and she read to him and fed him Campbell’s Soup. The youngest of 3 brothers, Andy Warhol was a frail child with a protective mother; the chorea made the family even more attentive to him. He became enamored with movie stars and comic book heroes, particularly Popeye and Dick Tracy. Lying in bed with his Charlie McCarthy doll (first epigraph), he dreamed of becoming a movie star or hero. In 1938, a new breed of comic book hero, the superhero, appeared in the first issue of Action Comics. Mild mannered Clark Kent’s transformation to Superman was particularly appealing to children, like Warhol, who were anxious and insecure.4

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Andy Warhol (1928-1987), American. Before and After, 1961. Casein and pencil on canvas, 137.2 × 177.5 cm (54 × 697/8 in). Gift of David Geffen. The Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY. Photo credit: Digital Image. The Museum of Modern Art/Licensed by SCALA/Art Resource, New York. © 2013 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc/Artists Rights Society, New York, NY.

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Andy Warhol (1928-1987), American. Superman, from Myths, 1981. Color screen print. © 2013 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc/Artists Rights Society, New York, NY, and courtesy of Ronald Feldman Fine Arts, New York, NY. Photo credit: Digital Image.

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