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Migraine art and photography in general, has developed into a whole artistic world. Drawings, paintings, and photography all bring us an understanding of migraine and migraine aura that we would never get from words alone. Songs and poetry are also a major part of the world of migraine art.
If you suffer from migraine attacks yourself, there's nothing like
migraine art to show you that there really are others who "feel your
pain". And those who have never had an attack can actually see the
agony that a migraineur goes through.
Migraine aura describes many of the symptoms in the early stages of a migraine attack (often before a headache). Most often it's used to describe visual disturbances - patients see zig-zags or flashing lights, for example. Read more about the migraine aura here.
We really don't know when the first migraineurs began to express their symptoms artistically. It's likely that their symptoms made their way into many paintings that were really focused on other topics. Experts today believe that some of the mystical paintings from medieval times were actually the "visions" that came along with a migraine attack.
It's possible that Hildegard von Bingen, or Saint Hildegard
(1098-1179), expressed both religious beliefs and migraine auras with
her art. Highly creative, the German abbess had visions from a young
age. Though migraine certainly doesn't explain all her visions, many
experts, including neurologist (and migraineur himself) Dr. Oliver Sacks, have suggested that many of her paintings involve migraine aura art. Hildegard may have suffered from a form of silent migraine, or migraine aura without headache.
For more interesting facts about Hildegard von Bingen and other migraine art in history, check out Headache Through the Ages by Dr. Seymour Diamond and Mary A. Franklin.
The images above are from von Bingen's work "Scivias" from the above mentioned book.
Migraine art was promoted in the last century by the late Derek Robinson. In the 1980s and continuing to this day, there have been art competitions in various parts of the world, focusing on migraine aura, pain, and the general impact migraine has on the lives of people, their friends and families. Exhibits of migraine art, both offline and on, have also been very popular. In a moment we will link to some of the art that has come from these competitions and exhibits, so you can see it for yourself.
With the rise of the internet with personal websites and sites that share files, migraine art has flourished. Some people have carefully created very expressive art, and others have spontaneously shared what they feel through their drawings, paintings or photos.
To the right is migraine aura art by Robert Brook.
These two pictures are a good example of migraine aura art - some migraineurs see zigzags in front of their eyes during the visual aura. Below, another image that looks confused. Aura sufferers often lose visual perspective, or even have parts of their visual field "blanked out" as you can see in this picture.
The caption reads,"This is how I see right before I get a migraine."
Photo courtesy of ganelleus.
Let's take a look at some of the excellent migraine art that's out there, including the winners of some are competitions. Beware, some of these pictures are understandably graphic.
We can't talk about migraine aura art these days without mentioning Dr Klaus Podoll from Germany. We are indebted to him for the research he has done and put online. Dr Podoll wrote to me regarding migraine and creativity - you can read my answer here. He has discussed art, including music, and has put many excellent examples of migraine art online. Visit his site to read about The Migraine Art Concept.
The Migraine Action Association has a collection of art, some of which you can see here: Migraine Art
In the USA, the National Headache Foundation has a large collection of migraine art online. See the winners from 2003, 2001 and 1998. If you're interested in aura, for example, check out the excellent painting by Maxine Bergh, Scotoma- The Abyssal Pain from the 2001 competition.
The American Council for Headache Education also has a gallery on their site. Visit the migraine art museum here.
Russian Artist Olea Nova has a set of migraine inspired paintings on her site. Her migraine artwork is available for purchase.
A search on Flickr brings up a lot of people expressing their pain through art.
Photo above courtesy of Breaking Windows 2.0
Photo below courtesy of littledan77
If you want to read more about migraine aura and related art, there's a book on the topic entitled Migraine Auras: When the Visual World Fails by Richard Grossinger. I also understand there is some migraine art in Oliver Sacks' book Migraine, though I haven't seen the newer edition.
A beautiful coffee table book - highly recommended for helping your friends understand migraine - was reviewed here.
For a more scholarly work, check out the fascinating Migraine Art: The Migraine Experience from Within (review).