Scintillating zigzags and surrealism

I’ve just found this interesting 1988 article from the British Medical Journal on how surrealist artist Giorgio de Chirico took inspiration from visual distortions he experienced as part of his migraines.

According to the article, he clearly recorded experiencing the symptoms of migraine, including the marked visual disturbances, and these can be seen in some of his paintings.

One of the most common visual disturbances in migraine aura is scintillating zigzag edges, but it can also commonly induce sparkling, dazzling, dancing, or flickering lights, fire rings, stars, and moving lines.

There are three sets of de Chirico’s pictures that closely resemble patients’ illustrations of classical migraine attacks. In a set of prints illustrating Cocteau’s Mythologie the jagged effect of the water is very similar to the advancing edge of a scotoma and may be compared to a painting from the national migraine art competition.

The second example, a painting from the 1960, has as its central feature the silhouette of a man with a spiky edge, while figure 4, a lithograph from 1929, shows a black sun motifintruding into an interior scene. Both of these are reminiscent of drawings of negative scotomata by patients suffering from migraine. Other migrainous phenomena, such as the distortion of space, may be discernible in a series of paintings known as “Metaphysical interiors.” This association, however, is more tenuous.

The article is illustrated with some of de Chirico’s paintings and comparison pictures by people who were deliberately attempting to illustrate their migraine aura.

Link to article on PubMedCentral.

2 Comments

  1. Jennifer R. Ewing
    Posted June 1, 2009 at 5:27 pm | Permalink

    Many artists, and other people in the creative professions, have some form of brain disorder–migraines,seizure, etc. Dostoevsky wrote much of Crime and Punishment during the aura periods before, and recovery periods after, his seizures.

  2. Jamie
    Posted June 2, 2009 at 11:50 am | Permalink

    Thanks for sharing this. For someone who experiences auras like this, it is eerie and reassuring for me to see artistic depictions of it.


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