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Artists with Disabilities: Dealing with a physical or mental disability as an artist

by Brian Sherwin on 9/25/2011 6:25:34 PM

This article is by Brian Sherwin, regular contributing writer for FineArtViews. Brian Sherwin is an art critic, blogger, curator, artist and writer based near Chicago, Illinois. He has been published in Hi Fructose Magazine, Illinois Times, and other publications, and linked to by publications such as The Huffington Post, The Boston Globe, Juxtapoz Magazine, Deutsche Bank ArtMag, ARTLURKER, Myartspace, Blabbermouth, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Conservative Punk, Modern Art Obsession, Citizen LA, Shark Forum, Two Coats of Paint, Vandalog, COMPANY and Art Fag City. Disclaimer: This author's views are entirely his/her own and may not reflect the views of BoldBrush, Inc.. You should submit an article and share your views as a guest author by clicking here.

This is a delicate topic -- but I felt it should be explored. We all know that a physical or mental disability has the potential of reducing the production ability of an individual -- for a physically or mentally disabled artist that decrease can, potentially, be far more alarming -- far more painful. I say that because the creation of art -- at least for most artists -- is a very personal, and dare I say -- spiritual, activity. Thus, I felt it important to spur a conversation about artists dealing with disability -- and how those individuals beat the odds. After all, disabled artists are not defined by their disability -- they rise above it. I'm interested in those stories.


When the ability to create art is hampered, it can potentially 'hurt' more than other forms of production that are reduced due to a disability. I'm certain that most of us have experienced a non-permanent disability that has served as an obstacle in regard to creative endeavors -- a broken arm, for example. Frankly, it can be a living Hell until the injury is healed. That said, for the artist with a permanent disability the obstacle is always present -- he or she has to learn to adapt. Needless to say, it can be an on-going experience that cuts at the very core of the artists creative outlook -- and outlook on life.


When thinking of artists with disabilities, I often recall my interview with Julian Stanczak. Stanczak is considered by art historians to be the 'Father of Op Art' -- though it is a title that he does not exactly agree with according to the interview I had with him in 2007. Stanczak is also disabled --having lost the use of his right arm in a Siberian labor camp during the onset of World War II. The loss of a functioning arm is devastating enough -- but Julian was also a right handed artist. He had to teach himself to use his left hand for writing and creating art. He implied that he had to do it in order to not allow the past to control his future -- and because he viewed it as a sign of survival.


That instinct to survive resulted in a career in art education spanning nearly four decades -- and artwork that, despite Stanczak's humble nature, defined a contemporary art movement. Julian survived -- he championed over the disability that was inflicted upon him as a result of his war torn country. In my opinion, his story is powerful on so many levels -- it is truly inspirational. That said, I'm interested in knowing the story of other artists who have endured the struggles of being disabled in some manner -- and how they championed over doing what they were told they would not be able to do.


What is your story? Perhaps you know an artist who also happens to be mentally or physically disabled -- what is their story? Some of you art history buffs may have a story about a famous artist who was also disabled. These stories pull at the very strings of what it is to be human -- to be productive and resourceful no matter what obstacle is thrown in our way. They also tap into what it is to be an artist -- to have that burning need to create art no matter what is faced.


Take care, Stay true,


Brian Sherwin


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Topics: Brian Sherwin | creativity | FineArtViews | inspiration 

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kara rane
hi Brian-
Thank You for bringing light to this important, compassionate subject.
my dear friend-an artist-has physical obstacles too.
I painted her portrait here-->>
*focus on your abilities*

Judith Berlinger
Hi Brian - Art and disability, what a great topic for expanding our vision of Art.

How many of us hear "Don't paint a landscape from a photo unless you have first painted the subject Plein Air." As a volunteer facilitator with the Alzheimer's Assoc. "Memories in the Making" Art Program, I used photos to inspire these amazing artists, many of whom created pieces that were juried by professional artists for the Annual Art Show and Auction.

Anyone who can not travel, for what ever reason, whether financial or physical disability should be encouraged to use photos as a tool to inspire creation and expression.

Then, a must is John Bramblitt's beautiful and amazing work. John is blind. John opens our eyes to what makes art and who can create art. Enjoy:

Best, and "Stay in the paint"


Judith Berlinger
Write another comment . . .

Patricia Pilipuf
Thank you Brian for mentioning artists with disabilities. I have been profoundly deaf since childhood but most people don't know it because I had hearing when I learned to speak. As an artist I feel that my disability has been a blessing as I need the silence and concentration when working on my art. I wear hearing aides and get by fairly well to the extent that I was an art teacher for exceptional children until retirement. I do have a problem with telephones and art galleries and crowded places. This has sometimes hampered me in discussions and workshops and sometimes in customer relations. But I do what I can and so that has been enough.

Sara Mathewson
Hi Brian, This is a good topic to explore.
I am an artist with a disability. I have several chronic illnesses that cause both pain and fatigue and also have problems with my feet and hands due to these illnesses. So, at this time I am unable to say go to a workshop because I wouldn't be able to take the three or so days of intense work. When i am flaring, my hands often swell and are very painful and it is difficult to hold a brush or a pastel stick, so there are many days that I can't paint and there are days when getting out of bed is my most difficult thing to do.

I started painting back in 2002 as a form of therapy for me as i was in a bad depression and trying to come out of it. The painting has helped so much over the years and I have sold some but don't consider myself a full time artist by any means only because I can't do it full time. How I wish I could!

Painting feeds my soul so when I have dry spells(like right now), I moved recently and have been flaring a lot due to that so have not been able to paint yet. I have to find my supplies, and then find my pics and so on. It becomes difficult emotionally because there is no soul feeding going on and I know other artists that when they are not productive they beat them selves up about it. That is me right now. Everyday I say I'm going to change that and paint and everyday something happens in my daily life that I am unable to do it.

It is interesting to see that someone said something about using pics for your art. Well, as much as I would love to be a plain air artist, I can't handle the elements during parts of the year. I live in AZ so I have to deal with the heat and I am heat intolerant due to my illnesses so I have to paint inside at this point until it cools off enough to maybe do some quick studies.

It has been a long road and I have worked hard. When I was feeling better than I am now, I would work maybe 4 hours a day learning how to paint. I practiced a lot. But it has been an on again, off again thing depending on how bad I am doing or rather how well I am doing.

It will be interesting hearing others stories. I know several other disabled artists and I know that "we" tend to do what we can when we can and also try to not push too hard because that leads to more time in bed etc.

Were it not for my art, I'm not sure I would be as happy of a person as I am. But I also have had years to get used to being like this. I almost can't remember when I wasn't ill.

Thanks for "listening to" my story,

Sergio Lopez
Jason Fassnacht - amazing photographer - quadraplegic - great soul, giant heart

Kathi Peters
Au an artist who suffered a stroke 5 years ago...just when my years of being a professional artist was taking off...I can relate to the therapy of art.I know my being able to bury my pain and fear in my hours of creating....It helped me heal faster then most.I may have problems with language skills and talking now, but I can paint....and paint I will!!

Brian Sherwin
Kara -- Thank you and thanks for reading.

Judith -- Thanks for the link to that story. Very inspirational.

Very interested in the comments some of you have left about the therapeutic quality of art. With all of the studies that have shown that -- and that have shown that being creative artistically helps with improve and maintain brain functioning -- specifically in regard to memory and critical thinking... you would think that there would be more funding for art education on all levels.

Prior to working as an art writer I worked in the field of mental health with individuals who had severe mental disabilities -- which spurred extreme behavioral issues. This much I know -- those individuals, when creating, were calm in a manner that was not stimulated by their medication.

I worked with some who were extremely violent -- but once they were introduced to painting... for the first time in their lives... their violent behavior was reduced. Mind you that most of these individuals were institutionalized during their early childhood. Due to the way things are in that system most of them were robbed of the joys we sometimes take for granted -- such as exploring creativity openly.

I found that many also enjoyed looking at books about art -- which sadly was also a first for them. One guy, he was a hulking figure, known for causing harm on almost a daily basis had improved behavior within one week of being introduced to images by Monet.

Rosemarie Adcock
Hey Brian, thanks for your article. I am, for all practical purposes, blind in one eye, not noticeable to other people really, but essentially I have no depth perception whatsoever. I do not see form. I do not see space. Yet I am a painter. It is a handicap, to be sure. I might think I am putting a jar of turpentine on a table and really I set it down 6 inches in front of the table. I cannot tell unless I am at a proper angle to see.

But what has resulted from this "handicap" is that I see changes in form and space with delicate variations in color temperature. I use this when I paint in playing colors against each other, or in creating depth where there is no depth, eg a canvas.

Years ago when I did more portrait work than I have of late, children turning their little heads to look at mom was a gift to me because I could translate the shape and form of what I would otherwise not have seen and manipulate it in my head to record what I wanted to on the canvas, and ultimately have the little rascals perfectly recorded, personality and all.

The handicap I was born with, in God's perfect wisdom, has instead become a blessing to me and to my work. I suppose we all need to look for what we can do with the "normal" we live with, and be the best we can be, better than we would have been, without our handicap.

Robert Sloan
Thanks for this interesting article. I'm disabled and have been all my life. It's not a temporary problem like a broken arm. That would've been bad enough. It's something I faced while I was first learning to draw.

I have right side hemi-hypoplasia. That medical mouthful means that the right side of my body is two sizes smaller than the left and much weaker. My right arm is an inch shorter than the left. My right leg is 3cm shorter than the left. Any physical activity takes five times the body energy.

Throw in fibromyalgia with its own dose of chronic fatigue and that's like having a car that only gets 5 miles to the gallon - then replacing the gas tank with a 2 gallon gas tank. I spent a lot of my life in hospitals or sick beds. I also don't function at all without prescription pain medication. Without it, my symptoms resemble mental illness.

Proof it's the fibromyalgia instead came in what drugs worked and what drugs didn't. Antidepressants never did anything for me but give me side effects. Pain medication works as if I'd just taken the right antidepressants. When people hear you say "I can't stand the pain any more, I want to die" their first thought is depression.

It took me decades to figure out that other people weren't getting crippling physical pain when stressed.

Art has helped me fight the pain. I can't stand at an easel so I don't paint very large. I have a tendency not to finish large works because I can't just stand by the easel and do big gestural arm movements. It's all in my hands and I need to prop up my arm to type or paint small.

So I do small format art up to about 9" x 12" total. Occasionally I go a little bigger but if I do, it's a major project. I do not stretch my own canvases or stretch watercolor paper. I do cut my own mats but I invented runarounds. I get down on hands and knees to do it so that I'm not bending over a table. Scoliosis means bending over too long or too often will also give me problems.

Anytime I overdo it, I get stuck with bed rest for days or weeks. Sometimes months.

Long term chronic disability is not as shocking as acute disability. I would be more upset about it if I'd been healthy and strong. I have nothing to compare it to. Other people do things I can't but most of the time, they're things I'm not interested in. It's only when it comes to certain artistic mediums and techniques that I get frustrated.

If I wasn't disabled I would have at least tried welding sculpture or carving stone. If I wasn't disabled, I would definitely be painting murals as well as small format art. I live in San Francisco. It's a joy to me that every box-shaped ugly building here attracts a gorgeous, colorful mural. I have yet to see ugly buildings in my city. I'd love to be able to leave one of my images to this city, part of her overall beauty.

There are runarounds for everything.

Perhaps someday I'll design a mural, have the money for assistants and paint, get permission from a building owner and do it anyway - just create an original map of the mural and get assistants to grid it to scale and paint it on the buildings. There's more than one way to scan a cat.

jack white

I won't take up much space. I was injured in 1990 right after Mikki became my mate. I had to find a way to feed us. Two illegals fleeing from the police in a stolen car ran a red light, slamming into the side of my SUV. My right shoulder was too damaged to even eat with it.

My truck was totaled. The men were arrested. The driver was drunk.

I told Mikki the following morning, I can either not paint of learn to use my left hand. At first I couldn't pick up a brush with my left hand. In a short time I was selling all I could produce.
I signed the art Gaucher, which I'm told means lefty in French. The work was not all that good, but I think the novelty that I was doing them with my opposite hand helps sales.

For several years while Mikki was learning to paint I supported us with my left hand art.
I never saw my accident as a disability, but an opportunity to explore loose, colorful paintings.
I finally was able to paint a few years with my right again before the old shoulder just completely worn out.

We can do a lot of things we didn't think possible if push comes to shove. There are a lot of Gauchers hanging on walls due to my accident.

Instead of saying woe is me, I saw this as a chance to explore color and bold brushstrokes. My right hand work is photo realistic.

Thanks for this topic.


Michael Slattery
I can't say I am physically disabled, but for a long period, 6 years, I was devastated by the loss of our premature twins Patrick and Samantha. I had never painted in my life, but my son Ryan (another preemie that we almost lost, who was born clinically dead) went when he was five years old and we painted mommy a bluebonnet. From that day forward I have painted. I went home and started painting on Ryan's little toddler easel until he finally asked when I was going to get my own. I believe that God gave me this as a hidden talent and has used it as a path to healing me from the loss of my children. I do know that I spent 6 years moping and coping but with no joy. Now, after 4 years of painting, I look forward to my time in front of the easel. That time of creation is a moment each of us artists should cherish, we know not what the future holds, but have faith that we will not be dealt more than we can handle.

This article hits home with me. This gets personal. I have had to "rise above" all my life (Most of my spine is fused with metal rods since I was 13 yrs old). For most of my life I liked to pretend I did not have a disability. That is how I coped. But when things started to pile up, like having my right wrist completely fused (secured with steel plate and screws - more metal) and having to learn to use my fingers again ( I still struggle with typing), then the minor brain injury (couple bad falls off my horse), then shoulder injury (in the line of duty) and resulting complications from the surgery that attempted to repair it; now nerve damage, terrible pain (on some levels I can relate to the character 'House'), well... at some point you just have to admit you might be slightly impaired in your abilities! I found that I naturally turned to my art background. It was comforting, a more constructive way to spend my time and ultimately theraputic. I had to give up my career in law enforcement; lay down my gun and handcuffs and pick up a paintbrush and palet. I still want to make the world a better place, and as they say, the pen in mightier than the sword, so too is the paintbrush. I know that some people, when faced with adversity, crumble and fall; I have seen it with my own eyes. But I can't seem to stop fighting. I joke that it is in my genes or something. Maybe. Or maybe it is something even deeper than that. I call it my inner strength. My secret I will share with you if you dare to ask. I don't know how long I will be able to paint, but I have a feeling I will be expressing myself one way or another til the end. Where there is a will...

Geri deGruy
I am so touched by these stories of artists bravely pushing ahead in spite of their "disabilities...using them as a part of the creative process. thank you so much for sharing these!

BJ Tuininga
Thank you for touching on this subject. Three years ago I was a vital non-traditional Graduate student in the field of the History of Art and Architecture, and a successful artist in my own right. I sustained serious injuries in a home accident which left me with a TBI (traumatic Brain Injury) rupture discs in my neck and lower back, and a four inch piece broken from my spine. Subsequent surgeries left me with severe nerve damage in my left arm and from my waist down.

I have fought back and have made progress in regaining certain aspects of my life, but it is through shear determination that I have managed to get where I am today. Without the support of family, I have managed to make adaptations in life for things most people would take for granted. Memory loss is frightening, (more so then the physical disability), the inability to remember simple tasks or to understand their sequences such as getting into a website was overwhelming. But little by little I have found ways to improve my quality of life. I still have deficits and may always have to deal with such, but I feel that I have put together some good fail-safes in my own behalf.

I painted for a brief period about a year ago before I really began to tackle the deep cognitive challenges that now are part of my personal lesson plan. One piece was to begin marketing my artwork thus I began posting my paintings on websites. This helps to challenges my sequential understanding, and to get my artwork out there for the world to see.

I feel that am ready to paint again. The images are finally returning to my mind. ( I used to dream my images and would get up in the middle of the night to sketch or to paint)I suspect my output will be slow at first. My heart is definite aching to continue the one thing that brought me great joy. I realize I must be very patient with myself and give myself the very understanding that you put forth in your article Brian!

As Kermit the frog said, "It isn't easy being green." But different is only a state of mind, we are simply differently-abled.

Jo Allebach
Art saved my life. I could not bear to live. I have had many successful endeavors in my life. I succeeded well in school and pretty much whatever I did. However, I knew I was different from other people on this plant. ï? There were times in my life growing up that had some influences on the depression I felt. But basically it was getting to be more and more of a roller coaster in my head because that is how my brain was made. There were times I couldn't concentrate on anything and would do really outrageous things, and then my world would be so out of control I could not stand it and attempted suicide numerous times. After my diagnosis and medication I was beginning to get some stability in my life. I was fortunate enough to be introduced to a program where seriously mentally ill adults can make art. At first I fought it because I had been in enough “bead stringing” art groups in hospital to know that I wanted nothing to do with it. I went and there were just a few people but they were really making art. Wonderful paintings and drawings. So I kept going and have not had a trip to the psych ward since. I love my work and so do those who see and purchase it. I am working toward total self reliance financially. There is such a peace I feel when I paint. The turmoil is gone. I want people to feel that peace when they look at my work. I know many other people who feel that art has saved their lives.
I hesitated to say anything because there really is such a huge stigma around disabilities especially mental illness.

Amy Brackenbury
An excellent book is named "Creativity and Disease". It's an excellent collection of artists, poets, musicians, writers that succeeded in spite of or because of mental or physical disease- very inspirational!

Barb Stachow
Where to a young child my favorite pastime was anything art related! Crafts,drawing,chalk pictures were my way of life. by grade 8 my school teacher saw my potential and said so to my parents who immediately said "no". Get a normal occupation, hairdresser was what my mom wanted and music teacher was my "out". Fast forward to Grade 12, I completed all the recommendations with honors to go to University and also had compiled all the hours for hair dressing. Hair dressing was to rough on my hands...I was missing one requirement for school...a 2nd language. I had a car accident and found myself profoundly deaf, and learning a language was next to impossible. So I took a job as an engraver...started my own business and did quite well, got married, had children, moved a couple of times and crash...cancer! Head and Neck cancer at the age of 40. A rash of radiation treatments...which I swear burnt my brain up...concentration is a thing of the past. A 17.5 hr. operation to remove part of my tongue and also areas down my neck where the cancer had spread; which in turn caused fybromyalgia and depression. Just like the song... the neck bone connects to the back bone, the back bone connects to the shoulder bone, and the forcast did not look good. Cancer had taken my life and suicide was very close. Then...someone suggested I try the "arts in medicine" program at our local cancer hospital. I can draw if I have something to copy and painting was introduced. The other people in the group were so encouraging and told me I was gifted. Soon I started to believe them and took a chance and wrote a company on the internet to see what they thought of my works. This company wrote back that they were interested and that I should concentrate on one area and send in again. I was encouraged by this but did not have the courage to go any farther. I then entered in a juried process to become one of the members in our city's art group. I really didn't think I'd make it, these were professional artists whom had years of schooling under thier belts. Can you believe my surprise when I was actually accepted. They though I was good too! Wow! Since then I have given away so many of my works, to friends, family and thier friends, I've entered competitions, and have my works in a gallery.
I am very much like Robert Sloan in that I can only paint for a short length of time, and I sleep for several days after I get to stressed or tired. But that will never stop me...cancer has given me a lot of negative things, but all those will never add up to the most precious gift that I've recieved along with my disabilities...time to enjoy my creative side and see the world through an artist's eyes. I now paint entirely for the joy of seeing that smile when someone who says "I can't even draw a straight line" recieves the gift of a painting I've created! I am on permanent disability income without a lot of money for lessons, but remember life is too short to worry about the small things...where theres a will there's a way!
Life is grand!

Barb Stachow
sorry about the book! Didn't know it was that long :)

Jo Ann
This is an article that I deal with in my life each day now. I worked full time and oil painting and pottery were my hobbies. In 2009 I had a ruptured brain aniurysm and was not expected to make it. By God's grace, he carried me thru this and I am again able to live at home by myself again, but I am in constant pain everyday. I am now totally disabled. I tell people now that these hobbies now are my life. I am unable to travel much and noise really bothers me, so I stay home and work when I am able to. These have turned from hobbies into my therapy. I may not be able to do either some days and then some days only a small amount of time, but good days are there, that I take advantage of to have therapy.

Brian Sherwin
Geri -- I agree. These shared stories offer something we can all learn from.

Barb -- No need to apologize.

Phil Kendall
The things I ignore include...

No sense of vision [the closer I get the less I see]...increasing deafness...little by way of taste...spinal osteoarthritis... Coeliac...burger [expletives are available] I could go on.

But while I can still physically travel and use a camera I have subject matter to paint from the comfort of my anatomically fitted chair [office type]...wearing reading glasses...using short handled brushes...seeing about a 15cm square at a time...I can paint until I'm too tired to do anything else...

Now the hands are starting to go down the arthritic route so some days even holding the brush is a challenge...

I set myself an annual target of completing 30 paintings of 50 x 40 cm...I will struggle this year.

Do I see myself as a disabled Artist? Definitely not so. I'm a studio artist and I have, in retirement, the best job in the world.

Susan Palmer
May I jump into this conversation? Nine years ago I was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease (PD) at the age of 50. In the mid 90's I had taken 2 short watercolor classes through our local parks and rec group, and so a few years ago when a local PD support group announced an art competition for people with PD, I thought "Why not try? What have I got to lose?" (I've always had this little artist brain inside me that I thought everyone had.)

That helped spur me into something that has become a love and a passion in my life! My hand shakes less when I hold a brush and paint! It's almost weird. I would be happy if all I did was paint all day long. I know it increases the dopamine in my brain. And my family has all commented that they love seeing me paint and the joy and satisfaction it has brought me.

Like several others who have made comments, I don't see myself as "disabled" and I ignore the PD as much as possible. After all, everyone has something to deal with. Mine is just more obvious than most.

So in reality, I choose to think of the PD as a blessing of that I would love to get rid of....but nevertheless, it has been a catalyst for some good changes in my life. I'd like to think that I would have picked up a paint brush regardless of my health, but I'm not sure.

To get a little philosophical, someone once asked this question: If you could get rid of the PD but had to also get rid of all you have learned from it, would you? And after some thinking, my honest answer would have to be no. I know that is hard to believe! But I really liked what I read somewhere - that healing doesn't have to be physical for there to be healing taking place. It really feels to me like something in my soul is being healed.

But then comes the head conversation - can't I learn my life lessons without the PD? Etc, etc. Life could be the pits if I didn't choose to take the "long view" of my life. (For me, it is that I only have to live with PD for 20 or 30 more years, and then I will have a perfect body forever. And I still have hope in a corner of my brain that I can get rid of the PD now.)

Enough of that. Back to art. It has become the part of my life that makes me excited to get out of bed in the morning so I can go look at what I painted the day before. I'm as amazed as anyone else when a painting turns out! I am working now on improving my skills and figuring out how to sell - like every other artist.

Thank you for this forum. This is my first time commenting on something so I hope I'm doing it right. You guys generally have great articles and have helped and encouraged me a lot! Thanks again and Best wishes!

Robert Sloan
You're right, Susan. That "little artist brain" is there in everyone. People get trained out of it in childhood, discouraged, harassed, insulted, hazed to the point that they don't dare draw. Sometimes I can guess the age a person stopped drawing by their beginner sketches. It happens at school age and schools may have something to do with it, also parents, anyone who says "no one can make a living at it" and similar beliefs. Anyone who tells a kid they have No Talent.

Yes, some people have knacks. But someone without the knacks can still learn, it just takes longer. I am so glad that painting helps you to reduce your PD symptoms.

It does a lot to knock back my fibromyalgia symptoms too. When I paint, I sometimes gain energy because it knocks back the pain. Pain demands body energy too and when it's gone, that energy is free for me to use for something I want to do.

Donald Fox
What a great idea for an article, Brian, and what amazing responses with incredible stories. I have family members with disabilities, so this topic is one I relate to strongly.

A story I'd like to share concerns a former student of mine (now deceased) who was an accomplished amateur painter until she had a stroke. She lost her ability to verbalize except for the word "no" along with some control of her painting hand. She had painted with some of my students before her stroke, but I did not know her then. One of them invited her to my class. The ones who knew her tried to help her, but she'd just say "no, no no!" and push them away from her painting. She could get quite emotional. I sat down with her and asked her to show me what she wanted. She would dab a few strokes of color and then start crying. Of course her friends immediately wanted to help her but she'd have none of that. Instead, I asked her to help me make a painting. I'd make a stroke or two and hand her the brush. We traded back and forth for quite a while. Once, after she'd stopped, I reached for the brush, but she said, "no, no ,no" and continued to paint on her own with me watching. After that she came to every class, worked steadily on her paintings, and would only come get me when she felt she needed help. We developed a form of sign language to communicate.

One day she gave me a note inviting me to lunch at her home. Her husband was there, and when I reached to shake his hand, I was embarrased to see that he was crippled with arthritis in both hands. He joked that she was his hands and he was her voice. After lunch she gave me a tour of the house with many of her paintings covering nearly every wall. The work was good, and I could see that she was very proud of her pre-stroke paintings. I also understood more fully her frustration with what she was able to do at that point of her recovery. She continued to paint with me for several years, and her work did improve. Most importantly, she found pleasure in painting instead of frustration. Another stroke made more painting impossible, and she died soon after.

BJ Tuininga
It is so nice to hear that art is such a positive experience for everyone. I know that it is for me as well. I happily try to carry this attitude with me wherever I go. I have found that it is sometimes difficult because the people around me, who only knew me casually, cannot seem to get beyond the cane or the walker. I am suddenly a person without intelligence or ability. If they would give a moment they would realize I didn't lose my intellect, I simply must work harder to retrieve the words that they are appropriate for conversation.

Unfortunately Brain Injury education has a long way to go, but we all are more aware simple because of high profile injuries. By the way I rarely lose my smile...It is a gift I am glad to share with anyone who needs it. I also try to incorporate a "smile" in each piece that I paint. I think it works, because it sure makes the patron's faces light up when they are looking at my work!

kara rane
dear Ones~
Absolutely profound and inspiring to read all of your comments and stories. Thank You all for sharing your journey, I know art (whether viewed or created) has the power to transform individuals and thus our world.
Powerful article Brian, and a wonderful community forum.

Mike William
Chuck Close was a highly respected artist who suffered a disabling event and worked his back to be one of the most successful artist of our time.

Sara Mathewson
Hey Robert,

I think schools used to have a bad effect on kids as far as art is concerned. I remember in 1st grade our teacher yelling at one of my classmates because she colored her apple "wrong" she colored it really dark using a lot of the red crayon and I thought it was beautiful, no one else had done that, well our teacher who was a sadistic nun told her she was wrong which got the message to the whole class, if you do it out of the norm you will be yelled at. so it started early! Then later in grade school or middle school years, i hated art class because I was one of the slowest and could never finish my projects in the time allowed. and it was shown in my grade for the class. I liked to take my time and make it right. So, I never thought I was any good at drawing, so I didn't take art in HS I was too afraid of what others would think of my "art". I missed out a a lot of fun because of my own inner voice by that time. At some point in grade school I used to sit on our front porch and draw the trees across the street, especially when there were no leaves so it must have been pretty cold out but I ;liked to draw them in detail and thought I was fairly good at it. But that was the extent of my real art time. Jump ahead to my time raising my kids, every year for xmas they got art supplies from Santa. And after awhile I started to give myself some art supplies. My ex who is a surgeon is actually very talented in both music and art. He can draw very well and can paint well too but hasn't done that in years because he is too busy. So here is a man who is talented in everything he does(writing too, and to say I was intimidated by his talent is an understatement. But eventually he bought me some things like some acrylics I think but mostly drawing stuff and a bag to carry my stuff which was supposed to be for watercolors which I never used while we were together as I had no idea how to use them. then we got divorced and for various reasons I ended up very depressed several months later and ended up suicidal. And had myself hospitalized. i enjoyed it when we were able to go to the art room because there were several tings we could do and so I took a ceramic Bluejay and painted it and had it glazed. And while in there my ex actually brought some watercolors and books and paper and brushes to use that were his new wives(ironic to be sure) and that was the start of my painting. For the next several years I spent many hours a day learning how to paint with watercolors. I now paint with them and also with pastels and sometimes oil pastels. It has always been my best therapy. And when people started liking my paintings I started giving them away to mostly family members. And I also started to sell them in a couple of galleries, although not many. but i am moving in that direction and it brings me joy. Painting feeds my soul. I can't not paint. I mean I have to for illness reasons at times but after awhile I have to paint because I feel like if I don't i start to shrivel up inside. I'm sorry this is long. One thing i am glad about is that it seems that when my kids were in school they were encouraged to do their art and my oldest got her degree in fine art and is now making sterling silver jewelry as a metal smith and my middle child likes to write stories and also to illustrate them. I think he kind of likes to do the comic book thing mostly but he likes to create as well. My youngest did in HS but now feels she isn't very good. She is going through the same self doubt I went through at her age. She loves to have my paintings though. I hope she will someday find the joy that i do in painting in some kind of creative outlet. Heck I started by doing cross stitch when my kids were babies. i didn't pick up a paintbrush seriously until I was 40. Ok, i swear i'm done here. Robert and I share the Fibromyalgia and also spinal stuff. He has had to deal with it all his life but even though I feel i have had FMS since childhood, I didn't have my first big flare until I was 33.


Judith Berlinger
Hi Brian and contributing artists -

The desire and need for artists to communicate is such a powerful force and I need to remind myself of this on days when I get lazy or fearful - yes, I admit that does happen.

I think of numerous artists who had personal challenges and still they created.

- Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901)
- Claude Monet (1840-1926)
- Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890)
- Dorothea Lange (1895-1965)
- Frida Kahlo (1907-1954)
- Mark di Suvero (born 1933)

Actually, it might even be harder to list artists (or anyone for that matter) without some type of personal challenge!

Here are some resources on Art and Disability/Ability that may interest this discussion group. Please note that this is not an endorsement of any of these resources - I just got curious and Goggled a little bit -

VSA Arts
Founded in 1974 as an affiliate of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, VSA arts is an international nonprofit organization dedicated to the participation of people with disabilities in the arts and society.

International Competition for Artists with Disabilities (YouTube Video)

Abilities Arts Festival

The Amazing Art of Disabled Artists

Best, and Stay In The Paint


Pat Meyer
Thank you so much for printing this article. In my past life I was and executive and on the board of directors for a large international company. In one instant my life was changed by being in a terrible car accident and getting a brain injury. While recovering over the years I was introduced to art as a way to communicate. That became a passion and a cause for me. Trying to relearn my abilities and memory art has opened that door. Do not underestimate the gift to paint. In many cases it can be the path back to some type of normal life and add amazing joy to your life. I thank God each day for healing and the opportunity to paint the beauty that he provides to us to see and communicate in our art to others. Pat Meyer

BJ Tuininga
There is an International Guild of Disabled Artists and Performers that I belong to
They are a group of very talented and active people. They welcome newcomers as well.

Donna Robillard
This has been great reading all these comments and stories. Many years ago I was very ill, and at the time I was not into art. But by the grace of God I was healed after a length of time. Since then, I was introduced to art and it is soothing to be able to do it. Even though I do not have a physical or mental disability, I am so grateful to be able to work on art.

Gail Allen
Creativity With Disabilities
“The journey often seems arduous until you gain perspective.”

Brian, your article on Artists with Disabilities for Fine Art Views touched me. I have lived for well over twenty years with what they now tell me is misdiagnosed Chronic Lyme Disease. Originally thought to be Multiple Sclerosis or something like that, unending pain and strange symptoms have plagued me for half of my life. Frustration ruled my life for many years as I tried to continue my painting. Not only am I an artist, but a mother of three, which added new challenges. Once I made peace with the fact that this was how my journey was to unfold, things got better. I began to look for coping strategies.

There are days of double or blurred vision and excruciating migraines, exhaustion, and inability to walk without assistance, or even raise my arms up on a tabletop. On other days my memory waxes and wanes similar to a person with Alzheimer's. The symptoms are endless and constantly changing, as medications can cause new symptoms. Then there are my duties as a mom and parent. I have learned to embrace it all as best I can. Learning to cope minute by minute has made me unbelievably attune to adapting. I am grateful for that gift since many people have issues with change.

When I am bedridden, I now sketch with watercolor pencils that I can wet and rework at a later date. The sketching alleviates the frustration of not being able to create, as I would like to. It gets new ideas flowing and spiritually connects me to that creative muse waiting patiently in the wings.

Memory issues have affected my abilities to just get in the car and drive to a site to work en plein aire like I used to. I am not able to carry my supplies and hike out into the landscape as easily. By adapting my techniques, I can set up in my car and work from there, or just outside it, taking photos so if I get exhausted I am able to continue working later on in the studio.

When working on a painting, I often forget exactly where I was trying to take it. I used to try to write copious notes, so I would have a direction to follow if I drew a blank. Now, I am going to try the Dragon Dictate software, which enables me to wear a headset and it will do the typing for me, so I can leave reminders for myself of things I want to work on later, or change.

The biggest change is in having to adapt and change my style of working, based on how dexterous my arms and hands are on any given day. If I am having tremors, I need to work more loosely. All of the years of my training in photorealism cannot help me with this. I view it as the universe's way of helping me branch out into new styles and ideas. I am enjoying letting myself experiment with my work again.

Today we are rearranging my small studio, setting up a new station for me to work on my sculpting. It is a journey of adaptation day to day. Some days, I feel like my old self again, and on others I feel devastated that I cannot paint and wonder how I got into this body.

Currently, there are about twenty, large and small-unfinished works amassed my studio. On a daily basis, frustration over the fact that I have taken them as far as they could go, in my current state of health plagues me. Somewhere in the near future they will have their day of recognition. Each day offers new accomplishments. I am determined that my past will not control my future; I have much I want to say with my works. A quote posted in my studio reads”¦.”I Came To Live Out Loud.”

Brian Sherwin
Thanks to everyone who has commented -- I think it is very important to share stories like this. Also -- thanks to those of you who have offered links to art organizations that focus on issues like this. Feel free to introduce us to more..

Jo Ann
I want to thank each of you for replying to this article, all the stories have touched my heart. I feel like I am alone in dealing with all I am going thru, but thru your replys, I see that I am not. Again, thanks, and God bless each of you.

Marie Solon Coerver
Thank you for the subject. I am bipolar and have had medical problems lately also. Through the ups and downs, art is what I always come back to. It is what saves me.

Phil Kendall
To Quote Brian...
"Thanks to everyone who has commented -- I think it is very important to share stories like this. Also -- thanks to those of you who have offered links to art organizations that focus on issues like this. Feel free to introduce us to more.."

There is another aspect to my life. That is my problems only exist when I go for my annual hospital/Doctor/Therapist/Community-care expert/Phlebotomist for all those blood tests etc.

Yippie for the most part I live relatively pain-free Life. I enjoy travel. I eat Gluten-Free [GF] food.

I'm a studio-based artist and now in retirement I have the best job in the world...I'm me the independent artist.

And the Kindle has given back to me the enjoyment of reading a book at I size I can see...

My use of the computer screen is @ X 400 it's good too...

Geri deGruy
Fascinating article on NPR about Lonni Sue Johnson, an artist whose illustrations featured in the New Yorker and The New York Times. After contracting viral encephalitis which destroyed parts of her brain, she lost her abilities to walk, talk, and eat. She is slowly recovering some of that, but what's cool is that she began to create word puzzles and this led her, as a bridge, back to creating art.

Floyd Alsbach
Yeesh after reading all of that Dementia, Narcolepsy, Heart disease and Depression don't seem too darn bad.

Brian Sherwin
Floyd -- Are you referring to the comments... or Stanczak's story in the article?

Floyd Alsbach
All of the above Brian, all of the above.

Hailey Santiago
This was an amazing article! Thanks, Brian!


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