Stroke of Genius: Abilities borne of brain damage
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Imagine having a stroke, a severe brain injury or a tumor and suddenly waking up one day to find you’ve developed artistic talents to rival Picasso. It sounds impossible, but the brain is a mysterious organ, and sometimes, damage causes it to rewire itself in ways that reveal new talents even in people who could barely doodle a stick figure. From the engineer on disability who became a sought-after digital artist after a stroke to a woman whose dementia spurred remarkable creative output, these 10 artists were all transformed by neurological trauma or disorders.
Ken Walters was hardly the artistic type before suffering a stroke in 2005. The former engineer had been severely injured in a car accident and was left wheelchair-bound and dependent on benefits to get by. But the cerebral hemorrhage that could have made Walters’ life much more difficult came with an unexpected gift in the form of newfound artistic ability and creative drive. Walters began developing digital art, which led to starting his own software company and a lucrative job with EA games at the age of 51.
Jon Sarkin was a chiropractor who liked golf. Then one day, while playing a round with a friend, he burst a blood vessel in his brain. Suddenly, the man whose life had been so socially proper and orderly became a passionate artist, loud and expressive, who has not stopped compulsively creating artwork since the first day he felt the relentless, insistent need to do it. His work blends painting, poetry and song lyrics with cut-out images to create collages that convey a sense of mystery and abandon.
Sandy Allen’s left brain guided her life, from her career in bookkeeping to her medical studies at the University of Washington. Then, part of Allen’s left brain had to be removed along with a golf-ball-sized tumor buried deep in her temporal lobe. That’s when her right brain took over, and art therapy sessions revealed her blooming talent. Allen jokes, “It’s like I’ve had my inhibitions surgically removed.” While she no longer has the language, math and science functions that once seemed to define her, she’s now an artist and has turned her entire home into a studio.