It is the anniversary of the death of Jackson Pollock, the American artist died in New York on this day in 1956. I know this because his name is one I associate with my own forgetfulness.
I remember, five years ago, I went to see an exhibition of the work of Jackson Pollock.
Being in Liverpool for the afternoon and it being a gloriously sunny day, I walked down to the Albert Dock and went to the Tate Gallery. Admission to the gallery was free, but it was £10 to see the exhibition, on the top floor of the very atmospheric building. Not having a vocabulary to express any understanding of any sort of art and not being conversant with the conventions of abstract art, it was impossible to say anything about the exhibition. It was thought-provoking, some of it was dream-like, but that doesn’t convey much to anyone.
A few days later, I began to describe my visit to a friend. “I went to an exhibition at the Tate in Liverpool last week . . . there was an exhibition of work by an abstract artist . .. he was an American artist . . . he died in 1956. It was interesting stuff, provocative. Oh dear, I cannot remember his name.”
There was a moment of deep frustration, which continues to happen from time to time. Strangely, it’s just with names.
Back in 2012, I went to the doctor and expressed fears about memory loss. He looked at my date of birth, 1960, and said, “This comes with age. While you are here let’s do some other tests.” I left his surgery with high blood pressure and high cholesterol and no cure for the loss of names.
My greatest fear in life is dementia. Cancer, heart disease, even neurological disorders, seem preferable to that gradual retreat into a world of confusion and shadows.
My memory mostly functions perfectly, standing in a classroom I can recall an extraordinary amount of material, but if the loss of names offers an insight into the dark world of progressive memory loss, then it is a frightening prospect.
Of course, the conversation about the gallery visit was hardly over before the name “Jackson Pollock” sprang to mind. The names of people whom I recognise, but cannot greet properly, spring to mind when I have gone further down the street, or along the corridor of the school.
Perhaps there is some psychological block, some part of the sub-conscious preventing names from coming to consciousness, perhaps the part of the brain where names are stored has become dusty or overloaded.
Educationalists suggest that information needs to be transferred from working memory to long-tern memory, and the needs regularly to be refreshed by retrieval practice. The name of Jackson Pollock has obviously been successfully transferred.