From Ailments to Artworks: The Artists Who Used Sickness to Cure their Creativity

Disclaimer: I will mention Coronavirus in this article, but only briefly, I promise. 

In case you’ve spent the past two months hibernating in a cave in deepest Siberia (or have taken an extreme quarantine measure), here’s the low-down on the C-word.

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses causing respiratory infections that range from annoying colds to more serious diseases like MERS and SARS. The most recent Coronavirus is known as COVID-19. Symptoms include fever, tiredness, dry cough, aches, pains, nasal congestion, sore throat and diarrhoea. 80% of those infected recover fully from the disease, without needing treatment. Only 2% of people with COVID-19 have died, and are usually elderly or have underlying medical conditions. 

Masks have sold out, and many of those sporting what looks like a poor attempt at a Halloween costume are unaware of how to wear and dispose of masks properly. Medical personnel are appealing to people to stop buying masks as there is an increasing shortage for the institutions where they’re most needed. Although the Coronavirus itself poses a risk to those more vulnerable in our society, and precautions should absolutely be taken to protect our fellow citizens, it’s sensationalist media that is the most dangerous. Incessant reporting, the totalising of mortalities and highly-disturbing headlines fill every news outlet across the world, contaminating the minds of millions and spreading a highly-infectious panic across continents. 

So please, don’t give into Coronapanic, or worse yet, Coronaracism, because let’s face it, it’s getting Coronaboring. Take precautions, look after yourselves and those around you, but keep calm, wash your hands and carry on. While we wait for this to blow over, here are five artists who used periods of sickness to inspire their artworks and enhance their lives. 

1. Edvard Munch

Norwegian artist, Edvard Munch, contracted Spanish flu in 1918. Whilst recovering, he captured his brief sickness in his Self-Portrait with the Spanish Flu. His jaundiced complexion contrasts greatly with the heavy, dark dressing gown that hugs his shoulders. His gaze is direct, and energetic brushstrokes connote a sense of restlessness despite the influenza. Munch made a full recovery, using creativity as an aid to his healing process, and continued to paint until the age of eighty


Alessandra Musso, Lo Sapevo

2. Georgia O’Keeffe

The American artist became well-known for her vibrant, yonic paintings of flowers and foliage. Like Munch, O’Keeffe also contracted Spanish flu, and not only did she continue to paint but she also got engaged to Alfred Steiglitz. Now that’s what we call recovery.


Hsin Lin, Every Scenery In Life Is Better With You

3. Frida Kahlo

One of the 20th Century’s most important painters, Kahlo’s paintings provoke a deeply visceral response. Her self-portraits were not only insights into, but also a catharsis for the chronic pain and illness Kahlo suffered for most of her life. At the tender age of seventeen, Kahlo was involved in a serious tram accident, where she suffered multiple fractures to her ribs, spine, elbow, pelvis and right leg and foot. The consequences of chronic pain can be monumentous, many struggling with not only the intense physical discomfort but also mental fatigue and depression. Kahlo channelled her Mexicanisimo however, and used her health issues as a catalyst for her creativity, where her paintbrush provided an almost spiritual guide on how to cope with chronic disease. 


Francesco Signoretti, Frida Kahlo String Sto Art Portrait 

4. Henri Matisse

After surgery for cancer, Matisse lost mobility and became a wheelchair user for fourteen years. The artist embraced his new life, calling it ‘Une seconde vie’ (a second life), adapting his creative process to suit life in a wheelchair. Matisse’s reduced mobility gave rise to a new artistic method; The Cut-Outs. He would cut out painted sheets into forms and arrange them into dynamic compositions with the help of his assistant, revolutionising art in the late 1940s.


Irina Ivanova, Sea Woman

5. Michelangelo

The unparalleled master of frescoes and sculpture had serious difficulty using his hands due to crippling arthritis. Despite his condition, Michelangelo continued to chisel, paint and transform ceilings into intricate pièces de résistance, until he was eighty-eight years old!


Massimo Angotti, Tracia Antica 

So, if you find yourself quarantined in the next few weeks, why not turn your ailment into an artwork with our Custom Paintings.

Start Your Art Therapy!


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