By KASSIE MCCLUNG, Features Reporter
Mar 31, 2014 ° Updated Apr 1, 2014
When he was 22 years old, his doctor told him to sit in a wheelchair and collect disability.
Brandon Neal, art history senior, wanted to be a concert pianist when he was younger. When he was diagnosed with Behcet’s disease, a rare autoimmune disease, he said he knew his plans would have to change, but to nothing less spectacular.
“My dreams and aspirations are way too big for a $600 a month disability check,” he said. “I fired my doctor and decided I was going to change my lifestyle.”
The disease caused Neal’s hands to ache, so he wouldn’t have the stamina to work with them for long periods of time. He decided to take it upon himself to research his disease and discover what he could do with it.
“I got rid of my car, and I started walking everywhere,” he said. “I started eating really well and changed my whole schedule.”
Through the process, he learned he had a knack for research.
“I see research as fun,” he said. “I decided to keep doing it.”
Neal came to Oklahoma State University to pursue his passion of research and art. He began doing multiple research projects around campus, including translating a dead language for OSU’s Museum of Art.
In his senior year, Louise Siddon, assistant professor of art history, gave Neal pictures her great grandfather took post World War I during his time serving the Marine Corps. He studied more than 10,000 photos and found a trend that would be the focus of his research.
The collections of photos told a story of a soldier and the conversation between Asia and the West, Neal said.
“The photos didn’t show a real insight of what was happening in China,” he said. “It was sanitized for the public. I became interested in studying that perspective.”
It started off as a small project but grew to something much bigger, Siddon said.
“He knows more than I do about the project now,” she said. “He’s a step ahead of most undergraduate students.”
Neal was invited to share his findings in Australia this summer and plans to travel across Asia beforehand to complete the project.
“I’m going to retrace the photographers footsteps,” Neal said. “I want to see his perspective, and see how things have changed.”
His goal is to obtain a master’s in art history and eventually run a museum, he said.
“I want to manage a museum that is fiscally sound,” he said. “I think cultural preservation is important. I see all of these museums having to sell art to get out of debt. I want to find a solution for that problem and help other museums that may be in that situation.”
Find Neal’s art at loucheart.com