Migraines are a multifaceted form of vascular headache. The severe unilateral throbbing pain is usually accompanied by nausea, photophobia, and sound/smell sensitivity. Those of us who suffer from migraines on a regular basis are probably already familiar with the concept of an aura, the symptoms which occur just before the onset of the headache. Interestingly, the term aura is also used in epilepsy, to describe the sensations prior to the onset of a seizure. My own auras consist of nausea, pinpoint light flashes, blurred vision, and a sudden onset of inexplicable lethargy. The zig-zag fortification lines viewed by many with migraines are a form of scintillating scotomata.
Though one dreads the pain which they herald, one may find that visual auras themselves can be very beautiful and quite distracting. The following website displays aura artwork by people who have migraines. The site also relates some background information on the history of migraine art, beginning with the famous Scivias by St. Hildegard of Bingen.
Early Pictoral Representations
Migraine sufferers have long since used paintings and drawings to represent and communicate various symptoms of a common disorder which has afflicted mankind since the beginning of history.
The miniatures of the medieval illuminated manuscript entitled 'Scivias', depicting the visions of the 12th century abbess and mystic Hildegard of Bingen, were probably the first representations of the visual migraine aura, about 700 years before the first medical illustration of migrainous scintillating scotomas published in 1845 in the ophthalmological textbook by Christian Georg Theodor Ruete.
In the second half of the 19th century, world-famous neurologists such as Charcot, Babinski and Gowers published illustrations of the typical zigzagged visual migraine aura which has been described under the synonymous designations of scintillating scototomas, teichopsia and fortification spectra, respectively, including a number of medical illustrations which had been produced, upon request, by professional artists.
Derek Robinson's Migraine Art Concept
In the 1970s, the Migraine Art concept was developed by the late Derek Robinson (1928-2001) as the rationale for a number of public competitions in the 1980s which encouraged artists, both amateur and professional, to illustrate the pain, the visual disturbances and the effect migraine had on their lives.
According to Derek Robinson, Migraine Art denotes the idea that techniques of pictorial representational art may provide an adequate and sometimes the best suited medium to express and communicate those experiences which occur as signs and symptoms of migraine or as reactions of the migraine sufferer to the said manifestations of the disease.
The term 'art' is here employed in its most inclusive sense with no implication of aesthetic evaluation. It is not intended to imply by the concept of Migraine Art that there is an art of migraineurs which is characterized by a unique nature of artistic creation determined by the causative effects of the migraine condition, because it is assumed that, in this sense, an art of migraineurs does not exist, confirming a conclusion of the painter Jean Dubuffet who stated, for different clinical fields, that "there is no art of the insane any more than the art of the dyspeptics or an art of people with knee complaints".