After feedback from Emrys and Helen about the Contextual Studies 2 (ARF 501) Presentation I have spent some time thinking about Pain and Anger in Art.
Pain doesn’t show up on a body scan and can’t be measured in a test. As a result, many chronic pain sufferers turn to art, opting to paint, draw or sculpt images in an effort to depict their pain.
“It’s often much more difficult to put pain into words, which is one of the big problems with pain,” said Allan I. Basbaum, editor-in-chief of Pain, the medical journal of The International Association for the Study of Pain. “You can’t articulate it, and you can’t see it. There is no question people often try to illustrate their pain.”
Mark Collen founded the organization as a result of his own experience with chronic pain. He herniated a disk in his lower back resulting in chronic nerve pain. He searched for many years but was unable to find quality pain management and felt that no matter how hard he tried to communicate with his physician he was unable to express his true physical pain. Mark began to make art about his pain and suffering as a way to visually share his experience with his doctor. After showing his artwork to his healthcare provider his treatment improved as a result of his doctor having a visual reference and seeing the pain through Mark’s art. Art was far more effective at communicating pain than words ever could be. As a result of his experience, in 2001 Mark decided to reach out to other artists with chronic pain and assemble an online collection of images of their art expressing some facet of the pain experience. The response was overwhelming and artists from around the globe volunteered to join Mark to share their pain experiences with the public through their artwork on-line. In June of 2012 PAIN Exhibit was formally born as a non-profit with the goal to use the collection as a visual tool to educate healthcare providers and the public about chronic pain and give a voice to those suffering in silence. James Gregory, who is also affected by chronic pain, has been part of the journey of the PAIN Exhibit throughout the years and is integral to the exhibit achieving its mission.
Art is far more effective at communicating the pain experience than words. The pain experience goes beyond the actual occurrence of physical pain and encompasses the entirety of one’s life. This experience can be both negative and positive.
The negative pain experience can include multiple surgeries, painful treatments, using different medications which produce unpleasant side effects, the failing of relationships, feelings of isolation and being trapped, poor self-image, depression, insomnia, frustration in trying to find quality medical treatment, and battles with insurance companies and lawyers. Since chronic pain frequently cannot be seen, unlike a broken arm, many with pain are not believed by doctors, colleagues, friends and family. This lack of belief is especially difficult for those living with pain.
Although no person would ever volunteer to have chronic pain, the pain experience can impact one’s life in positive ways. “What does not kill you makes you stronger,” is an applicable quote. It is not unusual for people with chronic pain to develop greater inner strength, and to become more introspective which leads to increased self-understanding. Chronic pain may change the course of one’s life and result in a more satisfying path. It is not unusual for those in pain to begin the pursuit of a spiritual path which can greatly enhance life.
One of the most famous pain artists is Mexican painter Frida Kahlo, whose work, now on exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, is imbued with the lifelong suffering she experienced after being impaled during a trolley accident as a teenager. Her injuries left her spine and pelvis shattered, resulting in multiple operations and miscarriages, and she often depicted her suffering on canvas in stark, disturbing and even bloody images.