Art and Illness

For many, practising and creating art can be a form of escape. The process of art-making can be a distraction from the parts of life we would all rather not experience. Unfortunately for some, such parts of life become a common reoccurrence and distraction becomes intertwined with daily activities. Illness is commonly depicted in our society as having a fairly conventional story arc – a beginning, a middle, and an end. Chronic illnesses, however, unfortunately don’t often follow the same pattern. Unlike a broken leg or a cold, chronic conditions ebb and flow between mild, moderate and severe symptoms, often worsening gradually over time and interrupting daily life. This pattern doesn’t allow the sufferer time to comprehend what’s happening and acknowledge emotions. Sick days can turn into weeks, sleepless nights can turn into months. With all of this comes fear and anxiety over job losses, isolation from friends and family, and general distancing from one’s sense of self before diagnosis.

Any illness, regardless of type, length or severity, can make sufferers feel isolated from others and dissociated from their body. On top of this, resentment can occur towards the part of their bodies that they see as broken or malfunctioning. For those who experience illness, be that chronic or acute, art can provide a tool through which to explore the mental and physical strain that being unwell can cause. Art can aid in coming to terms with illness and re-discovering the crucial connection between the mind and body. Amid numerous doctor’s appointments and distress sufferers can feel misunderstood and lose touch with their body, resulting in withdrawal, isolation and social exclusion. Art has the potential to ease the mental and physical burden of illnesses by communicating feelings without the pressure to find the exact words to describe them.

“Making art can enable people to take greater responsibility of their own health and wellbeing by helping maintain levels of independency and curiosity and improve the quality of life by bringing greater joy”

UK Mental Health Foundation, 2019

We are all human – each with our own struggles and dependencies. For some, art can help to engage in the understanding of what it means to be flawed and experience suffering. For artist Elizabeth Jameson, this discovery began after being diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, a life-altering degenerative disease. Jameson uses her brain scans done during her chronic illness turns her brain scans into beautiful works of art. Her artworks are a way of reclaiming her body and celebrating it whilst acknowledging and processing her pain. She takes something seen as ‘imperfect’ in the medical field and transforms this into a visually mesmerising and beautiful piece of art. Something that was once a daunting black and white image has been given new life in a myriad of colours.

Creativity is an endless resource that doesn’t judge or ask questions. Art therapy is not designed to critique one’s artistic skills. It is there to provide respite and support when we need it the most. In life we are all challenged in one way or another, some through illness that can be difficult to come to terms with. But with the wider artistic community, we can help each other through difficult times and promote a greater understanding of what it means to suffer daily.

For further information on art and wellness, visit the Mental Health Foundation website here.

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