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Diagnosed With Multiple Sclerosis, An Artist Turns Her MRIs Into Art

"I want to take the fear out of looking at MRIs," says Elizabeth Jameson.

  • <p>Becoming	 (Axial MRI view of the artist's brain)	Becoming portrays the malleabilty and ephemeral nature of becoming a whole self and constructing one's own identity. 	Solarplate Etching on Paper	2010	5" x 5"</p>
  • <p>Bird Brain 	(axial view of the brain stem and cerbellum)	“Bird Brain” is an image of the lower brain stem, the area that controls autonomic functions such as breathing and heart rate.  I chose to be humorous and playful with this image, rather than to be intimidated by the frighteningly powerful nature of this vital area of the brain.	Solarplate Etching on Paper	2010	5" x 5"</p>
  • <p>Blush	 Axial MRI view of the artist's brain	 "Blush" is one of the many examples of finding beauty and romance in the brain, remeniscent of a blooming iris.	Solarplate Etching on Paper	2011	5" x 5"</p>
  • <p>Carousel	 	"Art of Neuroscience 2016: ""Carousel"" is composed of numerous MRIs of my brain. The name was inspired by lyrics of musician and songwriter Joni Mitchell’s ""The Circle Game.""<br />
""And the seasons, they go round and round / and the painted ponies go up and down / we're captive on the carousel of time. . ."" <br />
This collage conveys the journey of my brain as an artist with a neurological disease, on an endless search for meaning."	Solarplate Etching on Paper	2010	5" x 5"</p>
  • <p>Celebration	 (angiogram of Mark's brain)	In "Celebration", the blood vessels in the brain are dancing and holding hands in celebration. The image is another example of discovering romance and beauty in the brain.	Solarplate Etching on Paper	2011	5" x 5"</p>
  • <p>Daniel's Brain		Danielle's brain shows a dramatic and detailed view of the brain. Such image is only available by the use of most powerful MRI available today, the 7 T. This is one of the few seven midges I've been able to work with.	Solarplate Etching on Paper	2009</p>
  • <p>Emerging</p>
  • <p>Interrupted	Saggital MRI view of the artist's brain	"Interrupted" shows an attempt to find wholeness and some sort of normalcy in a brain that has been scrutinized by the MRI machine.	Solarplate Etching on Paper	2010	11” x 5” </p>
  • <p>Interrupted	Saggital MRI view of the artist's brain	"Interrupted" shows an attempt to find wholeness and some sort of normalcy in a brain that has been scrutinized by the MRI machine.	Solarplate Etching on Paper	2010	11” x 5” </p>
  • <p>Intrigue	Axial MRI view of the artist's cerebellum	"Intrigue" portrays the enigmatic image of the brain folds. 	Solarplate Etching on Paper	2009	5" x 5"</p>
  • <p>Kaleidoscope		“Kaleidoscope” is a collage of etchings of the axial, coronal, and sagittal views of my MRIs. The image was intended to be one that is viewed through the lens of a child's toy. The jumble of shapes and colors depict the brain as a collection of ever changing, brilliantly colored shards of glass.	Digital Art	2013	Variable</p>
  • <p>Neuroplasticity I</p>
  • <p>Neuroplasticity V</p>
  • <p>Sun and Moon	prefrontal cortex and eye socket of the artist's brain	In "Sun and Moon" the eye socket and regions of the brain is transformed into an image that conveys the extremes of temperature, both the hot and cold experienced by a brain that is compromised.	Solarplate Etching on Paper	2009	Plate: 5" x 5" Paper: 8" x 8"</p>
  • <p>Valentine	 (coronal view of the brain stem, cerebellum, and lateral ventricles)	"“Valentine” displays the heart-like structure that appears in the brain, in all its warmth and mystery. For Art of Neuroscience: Valentine displays the heart-like structure that appears in the brain, in all its warmth and mystery. The image depicts the coronal view of my brain stem, cerebellum, and lateral ventricles.<br />
The foundation of my artistic career is built on a desire to deepen communication between art, technology and neuroscience and make these topics more accessible to patients and the public at large. I explore my own MRI scans to show how technology can provide us with a unique view of the beauty and complexity of the brain, even brains that are imperfect. My art practice stems from my fascination with my own disease, Multiple Sclerosis. As a patient with a progressive disease, I chose this image because it allows the viewer to stare directly at the brain while seeing the heart with all its connotations of warmth and vulnerability. This shift in perspective parallels how I interpret my medical data: moving beyond the raw, sterile images, I adorn the landscape of the brain with vibrant color, movement and emotion. My intent is to recontexualize digital imaging of the brain, providing visual language that can accompany and enrich scientific conversations."	Solarplate Etching on Paper	2009	5" x 5"</p>
  • 01 /15

    Becoming  (Axial MRI view of the artist's brain) Becoming portrays the malleabilty and ephemeral nature of becoming a whole self and constructing one's own identity.  Solarplate Etching on Paper 2010 5" x 5"

  • 02 /15

    Bird Brain  (axial view of the brain stem and cerbellum) “Bird Brain” is an image of the lower brain stem, the area that controls autonomic functions such as breathing and heart rate.  I chose to be humorous and playful with this image, rather than to be intimidated by the frighteningly powerful nature of this vital area of the brain. Solarplate Etching on Paper 2010 5" x 5"

  • 03 /15

    Blush  Axial MRI view of the artist's brain  "Blush" is one of the many examples of finding beauty and romance in the brain, remeniscent of a blooming iris. Solarplate Etching on Paper 2011 5" x 5"

  • 04 /15

    Carousel   "Art of Neuroscience 2016: ""Carousel"" is composed of numerous MRIs of my brain. The name was inspired by lyrics of musician and songwriter Joni Mitchell’s ""The Circle Game.""
    ""And the seasons, they go round and round / and the painted ponies go up and down / we're captive on the carousel of time. . .""
    This collage conveys the journey of my brain as an artist with a neurological disease, on an endless search for meaning." Solarplate Etching on Paper 2010 5" x 5"

  • 05 /15

    Celebration  (angiogram of Mark's brain) In "Celebration", the blood vessels in the brain are dancing and holding hands in celebration. The image is another example of discovering romance and beauty in the brain. Solarplate Etching on Paper 2011 5" x 5"

  • 06 /15

    Daniel's Brain Danielle's brain shows a dramatic and detailed view of the brain. Such image is only available by the use of most powerful MRI available today, the 7 T. This is one of the few seven midges I've been able to work with. Solarplate Etching on Paper 2009

  • 07 /15

    Emerging

  • 08 /15

    Interrupted Saggital MRI view of the artist's brain "Interrupted" shows an attempt to find wholeness and some sort of normalcy in a brain that has been scrutinized by the MRI machine. Solarplate Etching on Paper 2010 11” x 5” 

  • 09 /15

    Interrupted Saggital MRI view of the artist's brain "Interrupted" shows an attempt to find wholeness and some sort of normalcy in a brain that has been scrutinized by the MRI machine. Solarplate Etching on Paper 2010 11” x 5” 

  • 10 /15

    Intrigue Axial MRI view of the artist's cerebellum "Intrigue" portrays the enigmatic image of the brain folds.  Solarplate Etching on Paper 2009 5" x 5"

  • 11 /15

    Kaleidoscope “Kaleidoscope” is a collage of etchings of the axial, coronal, and sagittal views of my MRIs. The image was intended to be one that is viewed through the lens of a child's toy. The jumble of shapes and colors depict the brain as a collection of ever changing, brilliantly colored shards of glass. Digital Art 2013 Variable

  • 12 /15

    Neuroplasticity I

  • 13 /15

    Neuroplasticity V

  • 14 /15

    Sun and Moon prefrontal cortex and eye socket of the artist's brain In "Sun and Moon" the eye socket and regions of the brain is transformed into an image that conveys the extremes of temperature, both the hot and cold experienced by a brain that is compromised. Solarplate Etching on Paper 2009 Plate: 5" x 5" Paper: 8" x 8"

  • 15 /15

    Valentine  (coronal view of the brain stem, cerebellum, and lateral ventricles) "“Valentine” displays the heart-like structure that appears in the brain, in all its warmth and mystery. For Art of Neuroscience: Valentine displays the heart-like structure that appears in the brain, in all its warmth and mystery. The image depicts the coronal view of my brain stem, cerebellum, and lateral ventricles.
    The foundation of my artistic career is built on a desire to deepen communication between art, technology and neuroscience and make these topics more accessible to patients and the public at large. I explore my own MRI scans to show how technology can provide us with a unique view of the beauty and complexity of the brain, even brains that are imperfect. My art practice stems from my fascination with my own disease, Multiple Sclerosis. As a patient with a progressive disease, I chose this image because it allows the viewer to stare directly at the brain while seeing the heart with all its connotations of warmth and vulnerability. This shift in perspective parallels how I interpret my medical data: moving beyond the raw, sterile images, I adorn the landscape of the brain with vibrant color, movement and emotion. My intent is to recontexualize digital imaging of the brain, providing visual language that can accompany and enrich scientific conversations." Solarplate Etching on Paper 2009 5" x 5"

In the 1970s and '80s, Elizabeth Jameson was a civil rights lawyer, first defending children with chronic illness and disabilities, then fighting for gender equality. She worked in the prison system and in the White House on health policy alongside then-First Lady Hillary Clinton. In the late '80s, she was playing with her kids on a local playground when she suddenly found that she couldn't speak; later, she learned the cause was a lesion in a part of her brain called Broca's area.

Jameson regained her ability to speak through intense therapy, but in 1991 was diagnosed with a progressive form of multiple sclerosis. No longer able to practice law, she went to art school for painting and found she had a talent for it. Today, she's known for her silk paintings and copper etching prints that are derived from a very personal source: her own MRI scans.

"I decided I needed to give back to my community," she says—and her new community was people who were also dealing with neurological disabilities. "I was a public interest lawyer, so I decided to become a public interest artist, whatever the hell that would mean."

What that came to mean was making brilliant, colorful, evocative artwork out of images of her own changing brain. A far cry from the black-and-white MRI scans encased in plastic that she started receiving frequently after her diagnosis, Jameson's art captures the beautiful details of the brain—the splintering veins, the delicate folds, even the intruding scar tissue and lesions caused by MS—in rich colors and soft, grainy etchings. "I like the space, the shapes—it's a never-ending unfolding," says Jameson. "The brain is all compressed in the skull. If you decompress it theres a world’s worth of fascinating shapes and colors."

Plenty of others have felt the same way: her work is in the permanent collections of the National Institutes of Health, Stanford University, Yale University, Center for Brain Science at Harvard University, among others around the world. Recently, she used a 7T—one of the most powerful MRI imaging techniques—to create a print of prominent neurologist Daniel Pelletier’s brain. The 16x4-foot MRI now lives at UC Berkeley’s Li Ka Shing Center for Biomedical and Health Services.

Jameson's early work took the form of paintings on silk that she started selling on her website. "I tried oil, acrylic and I wasn’t delighted. I went into the art of silk painting and spent about four months learning how to paint on silk," she says. "I went through everything, and then a print-maker said she would teach me how to etch." For her most recent work, she creates MRI prints using a Solarplating etching method that involves transferring an image from a transparent film to a copper aluminum plate using natural light from the sun. After using the plate to print the image on paper, she uses paints, colored pencil, and chalk pastel to enhance the color.

Jameson, who is now quadriplegic, makes art with the help of an assistant. She typically works with her own MRI scans; "my art is 90% my brain for the simple reason that I am my brain," she says. For Jameson, the prints are a way to not only chronicle the changes happening in her brain—which she talks about eloquently; describing it as the "most sacred organ"—but also to become familiar enough with changes so they become less frightening.

She hopes it has the same affect on others: "I found that the actual MRIs, I didn’t want to look at them," says Jameson. "They were black white and ugly and I just didn’t even want to look at them. A lot of patients feel the same way. I want to take the fear out of looking at MRIs. We're all defined by the technology now, we talk to the image rather than the talking about the disease. I decided to find beauty in their complexity."

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