Periodically, we pose questions about issues artists face in their work and lives. This month, we asked: How have health issues impacted your art – or vice versa?
Judith Klausner, multi-disciplinary artist
I think there are a variety of ways in which my experience of chronic migraines has influenced my art. Most explicitly, my recent series of work Coming Out of the Medicine Cabinet deals with the taboos, medications, and medical ephemera from all of my chronic health issues, and Migraine Mask is a migraine self-portrait.
Because many sculptural materials have fumes that are migraine triggers for me, my condition also affects what materials I can use. Sometimes the best material for a particular situation is one that is toxic to me, and I have to get creative to try to achieve a similar effect with other media.
Making art around my health has also helped to push me to talk about it more, which has in turn lead to finding a community of folks dealing with similar issues and feeling less isolated.
Finally, art gives me something I can do around the unpredictable schedule my body provides. Because the creation of art isn’t structured in such a traditional way, I can still do work that is meaningful to me even though I can’t keep a “normal” schedule.
Heather Kamins, writer
The stories I’m drawn to telling often have to do with experiences I feel are underrepresented and/or misrepresented. One such experience is that of living with a chronic illness. After being diagnosed with one as a teenager, I sought out narratives about people living with similar conditions. Mostly, I found tired tropes: too-neat story arcs about diseases that were only resolved by characters being cured (or dying, and teaching Important Life Lessons to others), or the metaphor of illness as battle. One of my goals for my work is to push back against these sorts of clichés.
The common tropes that appear in books, films, and television also filter into the stories we tell about our own health experiences and those of the people around us. Thus, it’s especially important to me that we broaden our understanding and the possibilities of how we discuss health, illness, and the body. Incorporating magic realism into my fiction about living with a serious illness has, I hope, allowed me to defamiliarize the experience of getting sick so that people can look at this kind of story with fresh eyes and better understand what the experience feels like.
Mattia Maurée, composer
My first two years of undergrad I pursued violin performance, until a car accident left me unable to play for some time. Then I started composing, so in a real way, health has shaped my entire career. I’ve joked that so many composers have chronic illnesses because they stay home and write. This humor glosses over the impact of my multiple invisible limitations (asthma, migraines, and hypermobility). It can be isolating to hear societal messaging around health and ability, and I’ve written music about my body and brain as an enemy. Some of it was private and therapeutic. Some made it into completed work: the third movement of Lightlessness – Elegy – is about my experiences with depression. Making art has helped my mental health, and given me a sense of purpose. Voice movement therapy classes mitigated some physical effects of trauma and integrated my body and voice. It’s easier to discuss this in abstract terms rather than opening up about my own experiences. However, having an emotional impact is one of the main reasons I want to share my work. Yes, things can get better; yes, making art can help; yes, being vulnerable can lead to better art.
Judith Klausner‘s multidisciplinary art has been exhibited at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, Boston Children’s Museum, MIT Media Lab, and elsewhere. She is the author of Noah the Narwal: A Tale of Ups and Downs and the Arts and Expressions editor of My Chronic Brain, an online magazine for sufferers of chronic migraines.
Mattia Maurée is a composer who has received commissions from Emerald Necklace Conservancy, Fifth Floor Collective, Homebody Pictures, and elsewhere. Recently, they had a poem selected for display at Boston City Hall as part of the Mayor’s Poetry Program.
Image: Judith Klausner, MIGRAINE MASK (SELF PORTRAIT) (2014), clay, Swarovski crystals, metal, silk, flocking, 6x6x3.5 in.