Imagine your last healthcare experience – whether you were at the doctor’s office or hospital, as a patient, visitor, or caretaker. Whatever the reason, it probably wasn’t fun. Healthcare experiences can be simultaneously exhausting, stressful, and boring. For many living with illness, distraction, catharsis, and productivity can be a welcome escape from pain and discomfort. This is undoubtedly why many artists choose to explore (or escape!) their health experiences through painting.
The following is a list of artists who painted in spite, or because, of their health condition. Did we miss your favorite? Let us know in the comments below.
Born in Coyoacan, Mexico, Frida Kahlo learned to paint after a bus accident that left her bed-ridden for three months. Known for her self-portraits, Frida said she enjoyed painting herself because she was the subject she knew best. This may have been because Frida was often alone due to her injuries.
Frida suffered from chronic and long lasting pain and medical complications due to her accident. In fact, she went to her first exhibition in Mexico in an ambulance and many of her works explore pain and death as a subject.
In this video she can be seen painting in bed and spending time with her husband, famed painter, Diego Rivera.
You may know him as the French artist who championed the impressionist style, but did you know that Renoir also suffered from severe rheumatoid arthritis during the last 30 years of his life? Despite having little relief from pain, he worked right up until the day he died.
He can be seen in this video seated and working at his easel. According to his son, “His hands were terribly deformed. His rheumatism had made the joints stiff and caused the thumbs to turn inward towards the palms, and his fingers to bend towards the wrists. Visitors who were unprepared for this could not take their eyes off his deformity. Though they did not dare to mention it, their reaction would be expressed by some such phrase as ‘It isn’t possible! With hands like that, how can he paint those pictures? There’s some mystery somewhere.’”
Perhaps the best-known artist/health advocate, Keith Haring took New York and the art world by storm with his works that expressed concepts of birth, death, sexuality and, later, HIV.
In this segment from an old news broadcast, Keith Haring can be seen scrawling his work, which adorns the walls of hundreds of subway stations.
Later in his life, the theme of AIDS/HIV permeated Haring’s work. He spoke openly about his diagnosis, and wrote in a journal: “I know in my heart that is only divine intervention that has kept me alive this long. I don’t know if I have five months or five years, but I know my days are numbered. This is why my activities and projects are so important now. To do as much as possible as quickly as possible.”
More recently, Canadian painter Robert Pope lived with an aggressive form of Hodgkin’s disease until his death in 1992. During treatment, he created large paintings portraying cancer patients and their experiences including stark and honest portraits of people enduring chemotherapy, radiation, and more. His work can be seen in his book “Illness and Healing: Images of Cancer by Robert Pope” and many of the scenes might be all-too-familiar to contemporary cancer patients.
Do you know an artist who shares their health journey?
Paintbrushes and stethoscopes may not seem to have much in common, but art is increasingly seen as relevant to the recovery and well-being of many patients. In fact, if you or someone you know creates art related to a health condition contact us! We’d love to tell their story.