Darren MacPherson - "After Basquiat" (2017) Image: From an exhibition at London's Zebra One gallery focusing on the works of artists who have experienced mental health issues.
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The Relation Between Health and Art: A Guide

Art has always been a funnel for artist’s emotions being able to represent different states of mind and body. Many artists have used health within their art, or have had to combat major health issues while creating their masterpieces. Then, this article takes a look at some of the artists who turned their health issues into art and the health issues that plagued them. 

How have artists turned health issues into art?

Health affects contemporary abstract art today as many artists use art as a form of therapy for mental health issues, to represent their emotions and illness, and as escapism and a form of release from their health concerns. This is a tradition that has been maintained by artists of the past. 

  • Monet suffered from issues with his vision, with astigmatism that made him see the world differently. This could be partly responsible for the impressionistic way that he painted his famous pictures. He also later suffered from cataracts, which led to him struggling to paint in the way that he wished to. William Thon also started to paint abstractly when he became legally blind in the 90s. 
  • Renoir had bad arthritis in his hands. He still managed to create many of his masterworks during this time though, and carried on creating art for years after arthritis first presented itself in his hands. 
  • Many artists have suffered from mental health issues. Of most importance to abstract art was Mark Rothko, who suffered from depression and alcoholism even while he created the abstract art that is still displayed in museums today. This has carried on to contemporary times, with artists like Kim Noble using abstract art to represent mental health conditions, such as dissociative identity disorder.

What health conditions plague artists?

  • One of the most common health conditions that hinder artists is vision loss, with long days of close-up work leading to vision degeneration. Not only this, but as artists get older, they may start to find that cataracts cloud their vision and make it harder to create the image that they have in their minds on paper. Then, if you are an abstract artist who is struggling with vision loss from cataracts, you should consider investing in a cataract lens implant to help to restore your vision.
  • Artists also often struggle with mental health conditions, which are often represented in their work in vast swirls of color. The most prolific of the mental health troubles that artists struggle with is stress, whether this is due to the pressure of meeting commission deadlines and of achieving success, the drive to create a perfect piece of art, or simply due to the fabled ‘artistic temperament’. If you are struggling with stress as an abstract artist, you should make sure that you take time out to paint for enjoyment and unwind from art. 
  • Artists also often struggle with issues involving joint pain, RSIs, and arthritis in their hands, which can make it difficult for them to create their great artworks as they get older. Not only this, but the stooped posture of artists is often to blame for back pain. Then, you should consider stretching often, taking regular breaks, and speaking to your doctor about pain medication and soothing creams for arthritis. 
  • Many artists also find that they get ill from the use of toxic substances and chemicals that they use in their art, particularly in the past, when substances were less regulated. Then, you should always make sure that you air your studio. 

About the author

Jamie Moses

Jamie Moses founded Artvoice in 1990

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