When Walls Become Doorways: Creativity and the Transforming Illness

Tobi Zausner, Author . Harmony $23.95 (374p) ISBN 978-0-307-23808-5

In her intriguing book about illness and its effects on creativity, artist Zausner writes: "Most of us swim on the surface of life until a storm of illness impels us to dive within and discover new sources of inspiration and strength—yet they were there waiting for us all the time." Zausner found her own life and art transformed after a 1989 diagnosis of ovarian cancer. This meditative and perceptive read is enriched by Zausner's wealth of knowledge about the lives of many artists she believes underwent similarly transforming illnesses. The practice of art, in her view, is healing, and convalescence can prompt budding artists to explore and more experienced artists to deepen their mastery. While Zausner discusses many contemporary artists, the sections on historical figures are the most vivid and surprising: looking at Leonardo da Vinci's work, she concludes that the great Renaissance artist struggled with ADD and dyslexia. Zausner also cites scholars who say Rembrandt had partial red/green color blindness and had to make do with a limited palette of mostly yellows and browns. The determination and ingenuity of these and many other artists in the face of physical problems is a humbling reminder that behind great art one can find painful—and inspirational—human stories. (Feb.)

Reviewed on: 12/18/2006
Release date: 01/01/2007
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