I’m regularly surprised by how many of my artist clients (I work as a creativity coach) are suffering from chronic illness or chronic pain. Sometimes it seems as if every client is dealing with a pressing physical issue: back pain, intestinal maladies, arthritis, residual pain from an accident, etc. It goes without saying that dealing with a chronic illness or chronic pain makes creating art that much more difficult.
There is certainly the idea about that “what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger” and people sometimes talk about the “blessing” that an illness confers: that it opens their eyes to what’s really important, that it provides a dramatic stop to their rushing around, and that it confers other “benefits” of this sort. I understand this point of view.
When I was young—about eight, I think—I contracted rheumatic fever and had to remain in bed for some months with a paralyzed leg. During that time I read and wrote (including a whole book: that is, I cut out articles from National Geographic magazines and rearranged them in what I thought was “the right order”). I remember that as a wonderful time and I can certainly construe that as a sort of blessing. So I really do understand that point of view.
But in my estimation chronic illness and chronic pain do more damage than good and must be factored into an artist’s reality. You will likely do less work and less arduous work if you are in severe pain and the fact that you are working less or working on less ambitious projects may well bring you down or even break your spirit. For every Matisse who manages to deal with his arthritis by moving from painting to cut-outs there will be countless artists who stop completely. This is entirely to be expected. Pain is pain! It is not so easy to just grit one’s teeth and soldier on.
If you are experiencing chronic illness or chronic pain I suspect that you will need to have a forthright chat with yourself about how to construe your art-making, given your physical issues, and how to keep up your spirits if your body won’t cooperate and your artistic output diminishes. During such a chat you might try to articulate your new goals, in the light of your physical reality, and outline what you will do to keep your spirits up if your spirits begin to dim. You want to uphold your dream to make art but you must also factor in your physical reality.
Your comments on this subject welcome! What has been your experience of making art while living with pain or disease?
Eric Maisel is the author of 40+ books. To learn about his books, services, trainings, and workshops visit here: