Migraine Art: An Interview with Jim Chambliss

We’ve always had an interest in migraine, headache, and art in general here.  Migraine disease, chronic headache, and cluster disease have inspired fascinating art forms throughout the centuries.

Now Jim Chambliss is heading up some research to better understand both migraine art and epilepsy art.  In this interview, we talk with Mr. Chambliss about his own experiences with migraine, and his interest in migraine art and this particular study.


Tell us briefly what happened in 1998.

Jim Chambliss

I suffered a brain injury in a car accident in 1998.  It was initially diagnosed with a minor concussion, to go along with the knee, neck and back injuries.  Strange things were happening to me.  I generally felt ‘out of it’ and had trouble with my mental focus.  I began having what I later learned were partial and complex-partial seizures.

About three months later I had a tonic seizure, stiffened and fell flat on my face on a hard-wood floor.  I woke in the hospital with no memory of what had happened.  I had some minor cognitive damage that impacted on my ability to do math, process words and organize my thoughts.

What kinds of migraine symptoms did you experience?
Following the seizure and face plant I began having occasional migraines and headaches.  I had nausea, problems with spatial awareness, tinnitus, fatigue and other odd sensations.  The thing that I hated most was the sudden unexpected jolt of pain down the center of my head.  The migraines, for the most part, went away in a few years.  My longer term struggle has been with epilepsy.  However, some of the symptoms of migraines are hard to distinguish from the numerous symptoms of complex partial seizures.

Tell us about Puzzled.
Everyone can relate to the complexity and frustration of trying to resolve a Rubik’s Cube.  Most never complete the puzzle.  Some discard or destroy the cubes all together.  Some take off the stickers to put them back in a mislabelled way to superficially look as though the puzzle is resolved.  Few persist to solve the complex and frustrating puzzle.

Resolving the perplexing puzzle of brain injury, epilepsy and migraines is almost overwhelming when considering the brain has more than 100 billion nerve cells and a trillion supporting cells.  This makes it virtually impossible to fully understand complex combinations of neurological interaction used to create a work of art.  We can, however, see patterns within science, psychology, history and visual art that can bring us somewhat closer to resolution of how epilepsy and migraines can influence art.   “Puzzled” represents my quests to better understand what happened to my brain and how it influenced both my art and my life.

There are many layers of thought in the sculpture “Puzzled.” People often do not want to listen to our problems and challenges as often as we need to vent and to be understood.  In my sculpture “Puzzled,” and other art, I was extremely detailed in my need for self-expression and personal awareness.  People can take away as much or as little as they want to extract from the piece without me being intrusive on their time or having to talk about matters that are too personal. (note: see a picture of Puzzled here)

What inspired you to start studying epilepsy and art?
I studied epilepsy in order to fix the problems cope with the rest of the impacts as best as I can.  I studied art because, subsequent to my brain injury, thinking became visually hyperactive.  Working with things that were visual were for a long period, easier for me that dealing with spoken or written words and numbers.  I began doing award-winning art when I had no recognizable artistic talents before the injury.

On the one hand I found something I could do well.  On the other, I had an incurable curiosity about my personal metamorphosis.  We all deserve the chance to learn about our circumstances with epilepsy and migraines and to be better understood by others.  This study opens a window of understanding that will hopefully lead to greater understanding, respectful empathy and increased appreciation for what can be accomplished by people with epilepsy and migraines.

Come back tomorrow for part 2 of this interview!

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2 comments… add one
  • Betsy Blondin Oct 21, 2008

    Thank you — I’m so glad you interviewed Jim Chambliss about his study of art, epilepsy, and migraine! And for anyone interested, he is now looking for more art by migraineurs and or their families. Not only does Jim have a fascinating story of his own, but also the study will provide more insights into artistic abilities and the artistic expression of people with these diseases.

  • James Dec 8, 2008

    You’re welcome! 🙂

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