View No. 31 (2021): FORUM 31 - Art, Disease, and Expression

Art, Disease, and Expression

Science and art are the very nature of human attempts to understand and describe the world around us. As COVID-19 continues to dominate public discourse across the world - its ongoing effects trickling into every facet of our lives - the relationship between our health and how it affects the way we move through society has never felt more prescient. The 31st issue of FORUM aims to explore what has been identified as ‘sickness’ in literature and art through the years. How have the body and mind been treated by writers, artists, and cultural commentators - in sickness and in health.

Artists and authors have long recognised the metaphorical potential for sickness and disease to comment upon social and political issues. Charles Dickens, for example, shows how disease transcends social hierarchies in his novel Bleak House. Another example is Charlotte Perkins-Gilman, who in her short story, The Yellow Wallpaper illustrates perfectly the attitude towards the mental and physical health of women in the late nineteenth century. More recently, Ken Currie’s haunting portrait Three Oncologists (2002) expresses the sense of horror and anxiety cancer continues to evoke. The relationship between art and sickness is not unilateral. Frida Kahlo’s self-portraits often deal with her ailing body and she transmutes her body on canvas, with a vivid description of her medical history. Similarly, medical illustration and phrenological heads were used to help physicians puzzle out the mysteries of the human mind and body, while Leonardo da Vinci’s anatomical drawings are considered some of the most significant achievements of Renaissance science. Art therapy - a form of psychotherapy - uses art media as its main mode of expression and communication. There are multiple examples of sickness, disease, disability, (mis)diagnosis that pervades art - the body, especially those which are marked as ‘deviant’, ‘non-conforming’, ‘foreign’ and the psyche, which has been prodded and probed to solve universal questions of identity, human rationale and behaviour, has been continuously explored by authors, poets, artists and philosophers alike. 

 Many thanks to the following people for reviewing and editing this issue:

Adrija Ghosh*, Alice Orr*, Alley-Marie Jordan*, Amy Waterson*, Anna Kemball, Beth Price*, Dave Allen*, Emma Aviet, Lewis Ashman*, Lucilla Crespi*, Marco Ruggieri, and Trishna Mukherjee*

*Article Editors

Adrija Ghosh and Amy Waterson, Editors-in-Chief


Kahlo, Frida. The Broken Column (La Columna Rota), 1944. Museo Dolores Olmedo, Mexico.

Published: 15-Mar-2021