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GALLERY: Elizabeth Jameson Spring 2011

[ 18 ] April 16, 2011 |

Elizabeth Jameson found her art when her own brain lost one of its most basic functions.

After suddenly finding herself unable to speak, Jameson was diagnosed with MS in 1991. She soon came to know the geography of her own mind through countless MRI sessions.

Jameson felt a hunger to step beyond her career as a lawyer and reinterpret this medical imagery, adding an artistic treatment to her brain scans in what has become a unique form of portraiture. Jameson writes that her MS inspires her “to create images that provide new insights into the brain and, at the same time, makes medical imaging and its representative humanity more accessible to both medical professionals and others who view these revealing pictures.”

Most recently, the Harvard Center for Brain Science commissioned the installation of four of Jameson’s paintings. We are proud to feature Jameson’s work in this exclusive online gallery as well as an interview with the artist below. Check out her previous gallery on this site for more images.




How did you arrive at your present moment as an artist who is deeply engaged with her own brain and the brains of others?

I became fascinated by the brain when I suddenly lost my ability to talk. It happened when I was playing with my children at a local park.  I had no pain but, with absolutely no warning, I found I could not speak. The next week, surgeons removed a part of my brain in order to determine the origin of my aphasia. I was subsequently diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Since then, in order to monitor the progression of the disease, I have spent many hours in the darkness of the scanning machine, during innumerable MRIs (brain scans).

My diagnosis and treatment gave rise to a keen interest in medical technology and inspired me to create images that interpret the medical images in a new light. For the anxious patient, the MRI images can appear ugly and frightening—a bunch of black and grey pixels spelling out their fate. I felt a strong urge to reinterpret these images—to use them to explore the wonder and beauty of all brains including those with a disease. My images create an artist’s view of imaging technology–one that is both accessible to those who view these revealing pictures as either subject or doctor and also one that, I hope, captures some of the feeling and emotions evoked by these kinds of medical images.

I discovered art after my diagnosis. Prior to this time, I was a civil rights lawyer.

Describe one or two of the works we see in the online gallery. Where is it derived from and what led you to select this particular imagery? How does the image of the brain– first seen through medical imagery– change once you start working with it?

My artwork derives largely from my own MRI or brain scans. My two favorite etchings, Valentine andEmerging, deal with the exquisite nature of the structures of the brain.

Emerging is a cropped image of my frontal lobe and inter-hemispheric fissure. In this image, my brain and the skull are emerging from  the quiet of my interior self and entering into the world outside. This image captures the mystery and magic of the brain and asks us to meditate on where the brain is going on its journey.

Valentine I is another cropped image – this time of my brain stem, cerebellum and corpus callosum.  I chose this portion of the brain because of its shape– the structure that echoes that of the human heart. I use warm and cool colors in my work to evoke the emotions that I feel when I immerse myself in the interior of the brain, and to express my happiness in discovering the image of the heart within the interiors of my brain.

What do you find beautiful about the brain?

I continually find myself humbled and awed by the layer upon layers of mysterious and imponderable structures that comprise the brain. I find beauty in its mystery.

Do you think the brain will ever understand itself, or is this organ too vastly complex to grasp its own workings?

I am comforted by the fact that I believe my brain knows exactly what it is doing. I have never felt that I needed to fight my disease or the repercussions of having an imperfect brain. Instead, I use my art to celebrate the brain. Without multiple sclerosis, I would never have thought so deeply about this incredibly vital organ. In fact, without MS I would never have discovered my passion for art.

You write that your MS inspires you to create images that provide new insights into the brain. What are the nature of these new insights? Are they insights that can only be achieved through art?

MRIs produce images of a brain that are naked and without emotional context, without passion or sadness, without all the frailties, humor, and idiosyncrasies that make us who we are. I feel I am enormously lucky that my art allows me to spend my time hunting for images where I can find beauty and sensuousness, as well as perplexing complexity.

More generally, do you see an ultimate division between the ambitions of science and of art, or do you feel they are exploring the same issues at their cores?

I really don’t know. I imagine scientists are trying to discover the mysteries of the brain, while I am trying to present and interpret the beauty in that mystery.  I like to think that we are all approaching the study of the brain with the same degree of humility and awe.

Comments (18)

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  1. Andi Biren says:

    I love the rich color of these images! Looking at this color superimposed on the MRI is like full brain synesthesia…

  2. sheri says:

    This artwork is inspiring and incredibly beautiful

  3. Susan Matcham says:

    The fragility of the brain is wondrous and frightening. These beautiful images reflect the work of a courageous artist.

  4. kathy mikkelson says:

    I find Elizabeth’s art work to be very beautiful on its own. But when you learn the story behind the art, it is even more inspiring. I think it is amazing that Elizabeth, who has every reason to complain about the hand life has dealt her, has instead reacted by using her artistic ability to show the wonder to be found in even the diseased brain.

  5. Jo Ann Novoson says:

    Not only beautiful, but also provocative. As the artist states, the link between the art and the science is the mystery of the brain itself. Coming upon these images from whatever perspective, we all stand in awe.

  6. Rikki says:

    Elizabeth Jameson’s extraordinary art was recently featured in a KQED public television broadcast on the brain. Could this website post a link to that public television program? I’m eager to see, hear, and learn more about Jameson on “The Beautiful Brain.”

  7. Ellen says:

    Ms. Jameson’s art is beautiful and compelling. Thank you so much for featuring it here. Please keep it available so that other members of the public can enjoy it.

  8. Melissa says:

    I agree with the other comments. These are amazing images that make me, as a non-scientist, look at the brain. I’d be interested in knowing where I can see more of Ms. Jameson’s work.

  9. Kathleen says:

    These pieces are astounding and inspirational on so many levels. How very beautiful the brain is and what beautiful things it can produce.

  10. Diane says:

    It is such a sad irony that this artist’s illness unleased an extraordinary imaginative vision. Elizabeth Jameson’s art, while delighting me with its billiant colors and intricate designs, has changed the way I envision the brain. I look forward to seeing more of her work.

  11. Claudia says:

    These visions are so full of color that they draw one in instantly. Then after reading the artist’s story, one is profoundly affected by her courage and vision.

  12. […] between artists and brain scientists  has generated  some new arts forms.  The artist Elizabeth Jameson has re-interpreted medical images of her own brain to create intimate and unusual  form of […]

  13. […] available online through the Johns Hopkins’ Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, The Beautiful Brain, and the National Multiple Sclerosis Society if you are interested in seeing/learning more about […]

  14. […] artists and scientists we’ve featured on our pages here at The Beautiful Brain (Pablo Garcia, Elizabeth Jameson, and Jason Snyder). According to the exhibition’s press release, the intent of the show is to […]

  15. […] **About the image: “Referral for Your Beautiful Brain: Archive 1,” paint and mixed media on photo print of a brain scan; inspired by the work of Elizabeth Jamieson who uses neuroimaging technologies to create art in response to her medical condition and her changing brain. See […]

  16. […] Local contemporary artist Elizabeth Jameson, whose own brain scans (required because she has MS) have become a unique form of portraiture. (Of course, you can see those as well. Just click.) […]

  17. Hey there! I’ve been following your web site for some time now and finally got the courage to go ahead and give you a shout out from Kingwood Texas!
    Just wanted to say keep up the good job!

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