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When Walls Become Doorways: Creativity and the Transforming Illness Hardcover – January 30, 2007

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

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.)
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" marvelously heartening look at how illnesses and disabilities may have a creatively enlivening and even transformational effect on us. Expansive, broad-ranging and packed with often intimate information about artists. . .the book will be inspiring and helpful to anyone with health issues." -- Susan G. Wooldridge, author of Poemcrazy: Freeing Your Life with Words and Foolsgold: Making Something from Nothing

"The book shows that what appears to be misfortune can become the opportunity to engage in a challenging process of deep creative flowering that could not have occurred without it." -- Phyllis K. Stein, Ph.D., Director, Washington University School of Medicine HRV (Heart Rate Variability) Lab

"This book is wonderful - a real treasure of information." -- Bruce L. Miller, M.D., A.W. & Mary Margaret Clausen Distinguished Professor University of California at San Francisco, School of Medicine

"This informative, insightful, and extensively researched study of how various illnesses transformed the lives of different artists, some famous others not, will educate, inspire, and gratify any reader." -- Garabed Eknoyan, M.D., Professor of Medicine Section of Nephrology, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston

"This may be one of the greatest books about art ever written." -- Marianne Macy, Investigative Reporter

From darkness to light, from pain to beauty; seeing how these artists transform illness can change lives. -- Ruth Richards. M.D., Ph.D., Saybrook Graduate School, San Francisco and Harvard Medical School

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Harmony; 1 edition (January 30, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307238083
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307238085
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.3 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,817,936 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Sandy Frazier on February 13, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Of course, I had to flip right over to the chapter about Vincent van Gogh - having attended one of Dr. Zausner's lectures on the subject, which is so fascinating to me! Vincent seems to always be THE ARTIST we run to when we think of overcoming terrible odds and "combating [his] sickness with creativity."

Tobi's empathy for these suffering artists is evident on every page, for this book is a very personal elucidation, which absolutely goes hand-in-hand with her own masterfully transcendent paintings. It's easy to feel her deep and soulful compassion with every word and brushstroke.

You'll be so inspired with each anecdote, and all the carefully researched data, and understand the creative process more profoundly than ever... and all at once you'll discover she offers not only the problems but the solutions. Artists, by nature, CREATE - they making something out of nothing. But herein Tobi teaches you how the depth of the human spirit truly glows in the countless examples she has found to flesh out her thesis.

Her cover of Vincent's 'Wheatfield and Cypress Trees' is so appropriate for this wonderful book because it is filled with all the juxtapositions of serenity and conflict, harmony and pain... I can't wait to read her next book!
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Tigera on February 7, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is inspiring and, also, well-researched. Dr. Zausner is both an artist herself, and an art-historian/psychologist. Here are stories and vignettes about artists, both well-known, and not so well-known, for whom illness has brought unsuspected gifts and opportunities. This occured for them in part through good fortune but also by their ability to seize and transform a situation or a life. What makes this possible? Here is the challenge. We can learn from these accounts ourselves as we face our own life trials. Many categories of illness and disability are covered. I just gave this book as a gift to a friend with her own serious illness, to give her new hope. It adds to the power of this book that Dr. Zausner, herself, has had transforming illnesses, and she shares these as well with the reader.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Frederick D. Abraham on February 12, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This remarkable book by Tobi Zausner, artist and psychologist, is principally a compendium of people whose lives have been transformed by illness or injury, from one of adversity to one of productivity and fulfillment through art. It includes psychological insight and some autobiographical elements. Besides introducing us to some remarkable people, and stimulating our empathy for them, it tantalizes the reader to explore their art (Googling makes it easy. Visits to real museums and exhibits are, of course, more rewarding). For those of us who may not be as creative as her artists, is may give us the courage to become more creative and fulfilled. Thank you, Tobi. You've created a book that, like your art, is truly great.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Ilene Ava Serlin on October 9, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Whole Person Healthcare [Three Volumes]

In a society that values physical perfection and youth, people with illnesses have psychological as well as physical challenges. Tobi Zausner, whose background is both in art and psychology, has showed us how to use illness as a source of inspiration and creativity by reviewing the lives of both historical and contemporary artists. For healthcare professionals working in medical settings, for students learning about the meaning of illness, and for the lay person who has an illness, this beautiful new book is a must!
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