[Skip to Content]
[Skip to Content Landing]
Views 2,373
Citations 0
June 17, 2019

Miro’s Dots and Lines

Author Affiliations
  • 1Department of Medicine, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
  • 2Institute for Health Policy, Management, and Evaluation, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
  • 3Department of Medicine and University Health Network, Mount Sinai Hospital, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
JAMA Intern Med. 2019;179(8):1019-1020. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2019.1922

Joan Miro was a Spanish abstract painter, sculptor, and ceramist. He belonged to a group of expatriate artists who came to Paris at the turn of the 20th century to exhibit their work in avant-garde galleries and trade ideas in underground cafes. He moved in the same circles as Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dali and enjoyed a similar level of professional success. In the fall of 2018, Miro’s work was showcased in an exhibition at the Grand Palais in Paris. Among the exhibition’s main draws was a series of 3 massive paintings called “Bleu I,” “Bleu II,” and “Bleu III” (Figure). Each painting depicted a few bold dots and lines on a background of blue. They were composed according to a technique called “automatic drawing,” in which Miro allowed his hand to roam freely on the canvas without knowing how the piece would unfold. The paintings were displayed in the venue’s largest room and clearly positioned to draw attention. But as viewers walked past them, their admiration seemed to be tempered by a powerful countersentiment: confusion. What did the paintings mean?

Limit 200 characters
Limit 25 characters
Conflicts of Interest Disclosure

Identify all potential conflicts of interest that might be relevant to your comment.

Conflicts of interest comprise financial interests, activities, and relationships within the past 3 years including but not limited to employment, affiliation, grants or funding, consultancies, honoraria or payment, speaker's bureaus, stock ownership or options, expert testimony, royalties, donation of medical equipment, or patents planned, pending, or issued.

Err on the side of full disclosure.

If you have no conflicts of interest, check "No potential conflicts of interest" in the box below. The information will be posted with your response.

Not all submitted comments are published. Please see our commenting policy for details.

Limit 140 characters
Limit 3600 characters or approximately 600 words
    1 Comment for this article
    Epistemic Humility: Each to Their Own!
    Annemarie Jutel, BPhEd(hons), PhD | Victoria University of Wellington
    Taran and Detsky draw parallels between the act of viewing modern art, and the over-zealous need to diagnosis all ailments. There is merit to this position. They are right to note the limitations of diagnosis to explain everything. The idea that we can ultimately find a diagnostic niche for all health complaints is aspirational, yet imperfect.

    However robust their belief in the limitation of diagnosis, the argument they use in its support is flawed. They draw our attention to the study of aesthetics and art. Reminiscing on a recent gallery tour, they maintain that artistic
    interpretation is subjective and personal, and assert that that in this field, experts “have nothing to appeal to other than [their] own experiences, values, and opinions.” They insist that medicine should take a page out of this book.

    This observation lacks epistemic humility. To explain: an episteme is a particular system of thought in which truth is established according to a set of concordant rules. For example, the epistemic setting of medicine sees truth as established empirically, on the basis of observations, experimentation and generalization. In a religious episteme, truth is established on the basis of faith. In aesthetics and art history, interpretations of art works can be undertaken via the analysis of a range of sources and methods: the historical context, the materials and techniques, and the surrounding artistic milieu.

    Why we assert that Taran and Detsky lack epistemic humility is because in the face of their own misunderstanding of art, they have imposed the rules of medicine onto an entirely different epistemic setting, as if the truth of visual interpretation could, or should, be subjected to the rules of empiricism (observations, experimentation and generalization).

    Art criticism, while generally not empirical, is not entirely subjective either. It is anchored in a strong tradition with well-established disciplinary techniques. There are rules and standards for other forms of knowledge that differ from those in medicine, and because one field does not use medicine’s empirical approach does not reduce their arguments to “opinion.”

    We applaud the intersection, cross fertilization and debate between the cultures of sciences and the arts, but remind readers that these domains (and their epistemologies) are different. We overlook those differences at our peril: each to their own!

    Prof Annemarie Jutel, PhD, Victoria University of Wellington, Faculty of Health
    Prof Conal McCarthy, PhD, Director of the Museum & Heritage Studies Programme at the Stout Research Centre, Victoria University of Wellington