Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Art of Health

When I started painting at the age of ten in the atelier of The Huntington School of Fine Arts, I remember my teacher, Joe Mack, telling us that we couldn't sit.  Art was a whole body experience that had to be done standing up!

When I got to college I recall an assembly lecture for all artists regarding the health hazards of the artist.  Everything from toxic photography liquids to the dangers of turpentine fumes and the health risks of heavy metals such as cobolt, lead and cadmium for the painters.  I was nineteen at the time and took little heed of the warnings.  What they didn't teach us was the the long term physical damage of the arts.

As a forty-plus year old artist who has been painting for thirty of those years, I assumed that cancer and organ failure was to be my cause of death due to toxic exposure to paint.  Little did I know that my body would fail long before the paint ever got to me!

I have, for the past five years, endured excruciating chronic pain in the form of a herniated lumbar disk in my lower back.  The cause, as every orthopedist I've talked to claims, is being hunched over a drafting table and painting easel for the past thirty years. 

The long term physical effects to the artist are varied including carpel tunnel in your hands, myopia in your eyes due to straining over minute details, and as I have experienced, a bad back from bending over your work.  This is nothing new of course. In researching famous artists this is a condition that is quite common over the centuries.

Unfortunately for the freelance artist there is no Worker's Comp or Disability Insurance. you just have to suck it up and keep painting.  I only wish that that I had heeded my childhood teacher and continued to paint standing up.

Good Health and Good Luck.


"Self portrait"
William O'Connor


  1. :°( Is it really too late now? To start painting standing up i mean... Maybe find some device so you can do at least some of your work laying down? Or in an arm-chair, half seating, half lying?

  2. It would be our loss if you had to stop painting, William. I listen to many books while I work and take a break after each know, walk around, stretch, get outside, anything to break the cramped position. I find it both physically reviving and the fresh look at my work after the break really helps me see any problems I have missed. I do hope you get some relief from your pain, however you can solve it.

  3. Thank you for your well wishes....I will keep painting, of that there is no doubt. Daily walks and excerise are a part of my routine, as well as taking care of my two little girls. Despite my physical ailments you're all stuck with me and my art for a while!!