Expressing Pain

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Physical pain often refuses to be contained or accurately expressed through language. We struggle to use our day-to-day vocabulary to communicate acute hurt or discomfort; our words feel inadequate and our pain can be as difficult to articulate as a similarly acute feeling - love.

Dr Stuart Flanagan often feels frustrated at the difficulties in understanding his patients' private pain. While he tries to manage their pain, there is a gap between the experience of the patient and his understanding of their personal, lived-in anguish. Here he explores what art can teach him about physical pain.

Since antiquity, artists, musicians and poets have depicted physical agony in their work. With the help of art critic Rachel Campbell-Johnston, Dr Flanagan discovers the sculpture Laocoon and His Sons, dating back to the 2nd century BC, and examines images of the crucifixion and paintings from artists as diverse as Caravaggio, Goya, Munch and the Chapman Brothers, exploring how they express pain. In communicating pain through art does it become, paradoxically, something healing and of great beauty?

Poet Pascale Petit, author of What the Water Gave Me: Poems after Frida Kahlo, explains how she thinks "art works on the pain spectrum" and chronic pain sufferer and artist Deborah Padfield tells Stuart about her inter-disciplinary work with chronic pain patients to create visual representations of their pain.

Together they meet James, a 26-year old father from Cardiff, who suffers with severe chronic pain and struggles to articulate his agony to his family and physicians. Can patient and Doctor try to bridge this communication gap through art?


Produced by Rebecca Maxted
A Wise Buddah production for BBC Radio 4.
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