“If you are exposed to radioactive toxic waste there are case reports of people developing super-powers; but lymphoma is more likely.” Naomi Thomas, paediatrician and philosopher
An epilepsy diagnosis is very verbal, relying on witness history, personal narrative and analysis of how people describe the experience. Occasionally however, non-verbal descriptions of seizures allow us to gain a fuller understanding of this complex disorder. Artists are often inspired by personal experience, so it should be no surprise to find people depicting images of ill health, both their own and people they have observed. Furthermore, an ailment or affliction may influence an artist's portfolio over their lifetime, such as de Kooning's Alzheimer's disease and Monet's glaucoma. Epilepsy (in contrast with cerebrovascular or neurodegenerative disease) may present not just with a loss of function but with unusual super-added experiences such as déjà vu, ecstatic auras or hallucinations. Here we describe some artists who were thought to have had epilepsy, and the way in which their seizures influenced their art. It appears that for some, they have succeeded despite, rather than because of, their epilepsy and that rather than be inspired by their symptoms they were ashamed of them. If there is a common theme, it is in the unwanted psychological harm of some seizures provoking dark, frustrated imagery.
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Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; not externally peer reviewed.
Competing interests None.