The Art of Pain (Virtual Gallery)

The following is a piece of artwork titled, “Agony and Ecstasy”, which I believe expresses physical pain. It was created by Frank Trocino, a mid-century pop artist that creates paintings reflecting difficult emotions. In an article regarding this painting, Trocino describes the challenges he has faced in life, and the way that art creates an escape for expressing difficulties, relationships, isolation, and uncertainty. In an interview, Trocino stated, “It is within the experience of everyone that when pleasure and pain reach a certain intensity, they are indistinguishable”. As a former collegiate runner, I can relate to this painting. The physical pain during a race would make me say, “I am never doing this again”. It is unnatural to push the human body to its physical limits, and it feels contrary to ignore pain signals from the brain. However, the post-race adrenaline rush and sense of accomplishment would always make me come back to the starting line again and again. I still do not fully comprehend how I can love something that causes such pain to that point that the joy and discomfort cannot be separated. I believe the painting below articulates this type of pain beautifully.

When looking at the painting, I can see the expression of pain on the athlete’s face. Her eyes are shut, and her mouth is opened as if she is yelling in agony. Her clinched fists and exaggerated arm swing portrays the runner putting forth every ounce of effort she has. Though there is no background, and the painting is abstract, I picture her coming down the final 50 meters in a track race and attempting to out lean her competition by milliseconds. Through personal experience, and the artist’s rendition of this athlete, I imagine the background being the race through the runner’s eyes. When physical pain becomes intense, vision can start to fade, and the brain does not function properly. The outside world can look like shapes and blobs. Physical and mental pain begin to intertwine, just like Trocino expresses.

As someone who has a difficult time expressing emotions and articulating how I feel, this artwork was helpful in me further understanding human pain. It was insightful to think about a form of pain I have experienced for myself many times. While the patients I work with in the future might not be physically running, it is important to recognize that each individual is in the middle of their own “race” filled with suffering. Pain and joy can quickly become indistinguishable at points in the recovery process. The human pain experience is complex and a whole-body process affecting both physical movement and mental discomfort. While it is not comfortable, it is an inevitable and natural part of life. I think this painting helps express the spectrum of both euphoria and pain. Do you believe pain and other emotions can become interconnected? Can you think of a time when you experienced pain along with a seemingly opposite feeling like “joy” or “excitement”?


6 thoughts on “The Art of Pain (Virtual Gallery)

  1. Hi Maddi! I really liked your description of the physical pain while running, I thought it captured that feeling very well. I definitely think pain and other emotions can be connected. Pain that I experience alongside sadness or fear and pain I experience with physical exhaustion are very different experiences. One time I can think of pain being connected to joy was when I hiked old rag and finally made it to the top. That hike was very taxing on the body and my body could definitely feel the effects, but seeing the view from the top was definitely worth the pain.

  2. Maddi,
    This is so YOU! Though I never ran in college, I’ve competed plenty and can relate to the feeling of pain and ecstasy. The hard work that you’ve put in has finally paid off and you’ve achieved your goal, feeling proud and accomplished while utterly exhausted. Honestly, PT school feels that way sometimes. I can hate it in the moment, but feel so proud at the same time. I also think of my obstacle course races, ie Spartan Races when I think oddly, “ Wow, I paid good money to be here, to put myself through this misery.” But I also proudly sport a Spartan magnet on my car and will defend it against anyone who tries to trash talk it!

  3. I do believe that physical pain can be interconnected with other emotions such as joy or happiness. Since I played soccer as a kid and all throughout high school, I can relate to both the painting and your personal experience as a runner. I was a soccer goalie which often including diving and colliding with other players in order to reach one’s goal of stopping the ball. Even after getting multiple bruises, cuts, and a concussion, I would still be excited to get back in the game and play the sport I loved. I think this is really important when thinking about future patients and understanding that each of them have specific goals that they are trying to reach and things they are trying to return to.

  4. I definitely agree that pain and other emotions can become interconnected just as you mentioned with the pain that comes with running but also joy from accomplishment. I think when it comes to our future patients, in the case of chronic pain this can happen a lot when you have to learn to live with the pain and be happy when you can make certain improvements and like a normal life besides the pain constantly felt. Thinking about physical pain specifically, when I fractured my ankle, I was in a lot of pain and it was very frustrating. However, as I made small improvements such as being able to walk in crutches or being able to turn to sleep in a more comfortable position made me happy even though I knew the pain was still there and I still had a lot to do before I got better.

  5. This is a very well thought-out post, Maddi! Great job. I especially liked how you described the background as blurring out (as in the runner’s perspective) because often this is what physical pain can do to us–we can’t focus on anything else.
    To answer your questions, I think absolutely, yes. This is going to sound incredibly weird, but one night I was woken from sleep with incredible shoulder pain (my shoulder had dislocated). I lay there in agony for nearly half an hour as my family scrambled, disagreeing over how to help me (I couldn’t move because my other arm was stuck under me and couldn’t offer me the leverage I needed). But in the final moments before EMS arrived, I felt an intense sort of glee (that was pretty eerie/unsettling, to be honest) that I finally had a topic for my PT school entrance essay! In my life, it has often been the most difficult moments that stick with me the strongest, and this one has stuck with me for a while and served very useful. I knew I would have a great story if I just kept fighting.

Leave a Reply