Artwork by Monica Gunderson

Artist Thoughts

Art and Chronic Pain

September 09, 2016 at 9:00 AM

Chronic Pain Drawing by Artist Monica Gunderson

Chronic Pain Drawing © 2016 Monica Gunderson - All Rights Reserved; Unauthorized Reproduction Prohibited

Artists Who Have Worked Through the Pain


Throughout time, many artists have had some sort of chronic pain, illness, or mental "diffability". I don't want to say "disability", because even though we could be "categorized" as "disabled", I rather use the word "diffabled". This is because there are negative connotations with the word (and being labeled as) disabled. I prefer to call my chronic pain (and other people's differences in abilities) a "diffability" because it is a different ability that we (people with chronic pain or illness) have to live with, I don't make it a "dis" ability. In fact, if you look up "dis" in the dictionary, it clearly states: "a Latin prefix meaning "apart", "asunder", "away", "utterly" or having a privative, negative, or reversing force. Or it could also be defined as "dis: to treat someone with disrespect; or to criticize something or someone". See? All negative connotations! I for one do not feel that I am "apart" from my ability, nor do I feel that I should push it away, and I would think that others with chronic pain (artists or not) would agree. My chronic pain is a part of me, and I don't want to hide it or ignore it, I want to manage and accept it. I am not stating that I am going to say "oh woe is me" or want people to pity me or feel sorry for my condition, or give me the dewy "cow eyes", please just stop that negative thinking. What I am expressing is that I am accepting it and moving forward and continuing to work towards my dreams and goals just like you! I am also sure that those that face similar chronic pain issues would also all agree. We are no different from those without chronic pain or illness; we just have to manage life differently.

During my struggles with chronic back pain, I began to think about other artists that have persevered through their health challenges. How they managed the pain or illness and continued to live their life to the fullest despite their pain, turning it into something beautiful and meaningful. Reading about master artists who continued to move forward is something pretty amazing because during the 1800's and even early 1900's and yes even today the medical aspects to help diagnose or treat chronic illness or pain was and is still not fully understood. Yet these artists continued to pursue with what they loved despite all odds. Here is a list of famous fine artists that had managed their pain during their life and continued creating artwork that they enjoyed and loved. Through their resilience, they have created beautiful and touching artwork that will be remembered throughout time. As you read through, signify the differences between each artist (past and present) and how their techniques and the love of art making each of them are unique.

Michelangelo Buonarroti

Michelangelo - The Creation of Adam - Sistine Chapel Vatican City Rome

Michelangelo. The Creation of Adam. c. 1512. 9 ft 2 in × 18 ft 8 in. Fresco. 
Sistine Chapel Vatican City Rome. Image Source:
Date accessed: 4/5/2016 

Peter Paul Rubens 

Peter Paul Rubens - The Feast of Venus

Peter Paul Rubens. The Feast of Venus. 1635. Oil on canvas. 3500 x 2170 cm. Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna. 

Image Source:
Date accessed: 4/5/2016 

Peter Paul Rubens - Self Portrait

Peter Paul Rubens. Self Portrait. 1638. Oil on canvas. 43.1 × 33.5 in. Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum.
Image Source:

Date accessed: 4/5/2016  

Pierre-Auguste Renoir

Pierre Auguste Renoir - Woman with a Cat

Pierre-Auguste Renoir. Woman with a Cat. 1875. Oil on canvas. 22 1/16 x 18 1/4 in. National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C. Image Source: Date Accessed:4/5/2016 

Pierre Auguste Renoir - The Ball at the Moulin de la Galette

Pierre-Auguste Renoir. The Ball at the Moulin de la Galette. 1876.Oil on canvas. Musée d'Orsay, Paris. Image Source: Date accessed: 4/5/2016 

Vincent van Gogh

Vincent van Gogh - Starry Night

Vincent van Gogh. Starry Night. 1889. Oil on canvas. 29 in × 36 1/4 in. Museum of Modern Art, New York City. Image Source: Date accessed: 4/5/2016 

Vincent van Gogh - Self Portrait with a Straw Hat

Vincent van Gogh. Self Portrait with Straw Hat. 1887. Oil on canvas. 13.7 × 10.5 in. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City. Image Source: Date accessed: 4/5/2016

Henri Matisse

Henri Matisse in bed - photograph by Walter Carone

Walter Carone. Henri Matisse in Bed. 1950. Photograph. 

© Walter Carone 1950. Permission to use photo given by

Carone's daughter, Serena Carone. Image Source: Date accessed: 4/5/2016

Frida Kahlo

Frida Kahlo - The Broken Column - La Columna Rota

Frida Kahlo. The Broken Column. 1944 Oil on masonite. 15.7 in × 12.0 in. Museo Dolores Olmedo, Xochimilco, Mexico City, Mexico. ©Frida Kahlo. Permission granted by Amy Rosemburg.  Image Source: Date accessed: 4/5/2016

Frida Kahlo - The Two Fridas - Las Dos Fridas

Frida Kahlo. The Two Fridas. 1939. Oil on canvas. 68.3 in × 68 in. Museo Dolores Olmedo, Xochimilco, Mexico City, Mexico. ©Frida Kahlo. Permission granted by Amy Rosemburg.

Image Source: Date accessed: 4/5/2016

Artists Currently Managing Chronic Pain

Today there are still many artists who attain their creative lifestyle despite the challenges their bodies throw at them on a daily basis. We wake up every morning and say to ourselves, "Good morning sunshine, let's get up and moving and be creative today. It is time to change the world with our creative aspirations." We strive to be positive and express to others that this life can still be lived in spite of daily challenges no matter what those challenges may be. Whether you have chronic pain or illness, whether you just get up and are having a bad day. Life goes on, and it is your choice to create a beautiful life for yourself and be a positive influence to those around you. We (artists with chronic pain or illness) want to express to those with or without diffabilities that this is not yet the end, but only a new beginning with every morning. Sure, we have our good days and bad days, but the ability to move forward towards our goals and aspirations is what keeps us motivated. Here are some great artists who continue to live and accomplish their creative endeavors notwithstanding what pains they face daily. These artists are an inspiration to me, and I hope that they will inspire others as well.

Photographer Adam Jacobs

Photographer Adam Jacobs - Manfrotto

Photographer Adam Jacobs. Abandond Spaces.
© Adam Jacobs Photography Ltd

Photographer Adam Jacobs

Photographer Adam Jacobs.

When Adam Jacobs was about 18 years old, he was a sports fanatic, was hardly ever sick, and had just begun courses at Nottingham University planning on working as a banker once he had obtained his college degree. Soon after the first semester began, Adam started getting migraines that would last for days, weeks, months, which led eventually lead to years of chronic migraines. For a couple of years, Adam actually spent the majority of his time, in a dark room with the curtains drawn closed and wearing sunglasses; even the slightest sound was agonizing for him because the migraines were so severe. No matter how many studies doctors did, they could not figure out why Adam Jacobs was experiencing these severe, daily migraines. After five years, he still did not have a diagnosis from doctors, but still had the migraines. Eventually, Adam Jacobs began taking photographs to take his mind off of the pain and his passion for photography grew exponentially after that. Eventually during Adam's photography career, he was finally diagnosed with Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (PoTS). PoTS is a disease of the autonomic nervous system and affects the flow of blood through the body. PoTS is widely misunderstood and still does not have any specific treatment. Despite this, Adam shoots photography and wears ear protection to muffle the loud sounds. He has worked with both commercial and editorial subjects, but specializes in architecture, interiors, landscapes, travel, collegiate and professional sports and travel. He has also taken photographs of well-known people such as President Obama, Bill Clinton, Nelson Mandela, Andy Murray, and Mick Jagger. Currently Adam Jacobs is working on a personal project titled, "Abandoned Spaces" which documents derelict buildings throughout the U.S. See more of Adam Jacobs photography on his website:



Artist Beau Bernier Frank

Artist Beau Bernier Frank - Magazine Golden State of Mind

Artist Beau Bernier Frank. Magazine Golden State of Mind.
© Beau Bernier Frank

For years Beau Bernier Frank would love to travel to different countries and during his travels he thoroughly enjoyed the different cultures, and language which eventually grew into a love of art. He is a self-taught artist and really took off in creating spectacular artwork from murals, oil paintings on wood panels, and graphic design, but by 2015 his health took a drastic turn and he could not ignore the pain anymore. Beau was diagnosed with Ankylosing Spondylitis an autoimmune disease and is a form of arthritis that primarily affects the spine but also causes issues in other joints as well. The inflammation of the spinal joints or vertebrae can lead to sever chronic pain and discomfort. Despite the pain, Bea turned to art and began painting while he was learning to cope with his disease and manage the chronic pain. The series of paintings is titled "Off the Grid" and combines his love of the arts as well as travel by combining the two of portraits and landscapes. These paintings show a story of the want of escaping reality and to travel to distant lands. Visit Beau Bernier Frank's website to learn more about the artist and view his beautiful and moving artwork at


Artist Yvonne Palermo

Artist Yvonne Palermo

Artist Yvonne Palermo. The Gift.

©Yvonne Palermo

Artist Yvonne Palermo

Artist Yvonne Palermo. Defeat.

©Yvonne Palermo 

Artist Yvonne Palermo - Rebirth

Artist Yvonne Palermo. Rebirth.
Yvonne Palermo

Yvonne Palermo - hexW

Artist Yvonne Palermo. hexW.©Yvonne Palermo 

Artist Yvonne Palermo

Artist Yvonne Palermo

Yvonne Palermo started out in a career focused on a career in Microbiology/Clinical Tech and also did a little work in forensics. Unfortunately, she had gotten into a terrible accident and the end result was she suffered from a broken neck, lower back and ruptured discs which dramatically changed her life, but yet awakened her in a new spirit and geared her towards the love of art. Even though she struggled through her chronic pain and doubts from doctors, she had continued to fight for a diagnosis and also continued to produce artwork describing her pain, frustration, isolation, loss of friendships, and stigma of chronic pain. Yvonne has also both spoke publicly about and wrote about chronic pain, she adds a voice in many avenues for other chronic pain sufferers in hopes that medical professionals will understand that chronic pain is very real and that those of us who do suffer from chronic pain are not drug seekers, or making up our condition. To see some of Yvonne Palermo artwork and learn more about her story, visit her website at:

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Monica Gunderson Fine Artist

Modesto CA