Chronic Pain in Art

This art piece gripped me at first glance. The colors are dark, strong, and juxtaposed. I couldn’t tell what the pieces meant at first, but once I looked at the whole picture, I saw the outline of the body. The body language: hunched over, head between knees, and arms wrapped around the body. I recognized the position immediately, I have seen it before, and I have been there before. This posture screams pain.

The artist, Gina Hulse, created this painting “[to] depict what pain might look like on the human body.” She had experience with chronic pain, and she wanted to depict that experience. The way the body was colored in the painting really struck me, especially the red. If I had to give pain a color, it would be red without a doubt. Maybe that is because it was the color of blood or a burn. The piece has red around the upper back, shoulder, and lower back.  When I looked at it, it was almost as if I can feel the pain.

Although I do not have any experience with chronic pain, this piece gave me a quick glimpse of the hopelessness it can bring. The body language of the figure does not just scream pain, but it also shows a moment of vulnerability. This pain must have not been easy to deal with or handle for such a long period of time. I cannot even begin to describe it, because I get bothered by a headache that lasts more than a couple of hours and it can affect my moods and behavior. I have no idea how one can deal with consistent pain for months or years. It must affect their life, moods, behaviors, and plans.

As a future physical therapist, I have no doubt that I will encounter patients who experience chronic pain or that I will see them in vulnerable moments. I know their pain will not be colored red, but it will be there, and it will be felt. I will remember this painting and help them through it.



Welds, G. (2017, April 18). Coping with chronic illness: My 101 days of creativity. Patient’s Lounge. Retrieved March 16, 2022, from



  1. How do you feel about the colors in this piece?

  2. If I do not look very closely and I just look at the colors and the tiny shapes in the painting, it can pass for a very nice piece of modern abstract art and that it surely is. The colors are vibrant and deep. The colors give a mixed feeling of celebration and intensity. By celebration I mean an acknowledgement, and by intensity I mean the depth of a feeling. Since I know what the painting is about, the intensity I see through these colors reflects pain, passion, fear and anger. Also the element of cubism breaks the picture into pieces which gives the feeling of separation, whereas some strokes are very fluid that depicts belongingness. The colors also kind of wrap you around into a space of disjointed feelings.

  3. Your assessment of the color red seems quite apt. Looking at this image I am drawn to the red and can imagine that this is where most of the pained person’s attention is drawn also. The most important parts of the body become the painful parts leaving the rest of the body to exist or not, just kind of blending in with the background. The head and therefore mind appear disconnected and separate. The head is a completely opposite color from red, and seems insignificant compared to the pain of the body.

  4. Fatima, the piece you chose is very striking indeed. The use of color to depict different emotions has always been one of my favorite ways artists weave deeper meaning into their pieces. I agree with your statement about the color of pain – red. Red feels hot, achy, pestering and like it warrants some attention. I also can appreciate how the artist painted the colors in a way that you can follow them up or down the body – so the viewer can trace the path of their pain. The blue causes the object to recede into the background and carries a certain heaviness, especially when it is juxtaposed by the brighter red. It is as if their position is supporting the weight of their head – probably full of heavy thoughts surrounding their condition. Yellow is traditionally thought of as a happy color, but in this piece it is murky and thus does not carry a positive connotation.

  5. It took me a second to see the person made up of all the tiny parts, but now that I can see the person I can no longer not see it. I agree with you and our fellow group members that the red is definitely striking and is key to achieving the artist’s intention to depict pain. That being said I also think that the blue in the painting, especially around the head is very notable. When I see blue I think cold, lonely, sad, and isolated and I think with the exception of cold all of those things can be a part of pain that is perhaps less emphasized by HCP who aren’t in mental illness. We should always be keeping those elements of life with chronic pain in mind.

  6. Fatima –
    This is a nice addition to our gallery. It took me a long time to see the person – and only because of your description I think. You did a nice interpretation of the work and you prompted some good observations from your colleagues.
    Well done.

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