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Art and Dyslexia: The Picture-Perfect Combination?

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by Rod Jones

You would be amazed at the Who’s Who of dyslexics. We’ll start with Picasso:  yes, he and many other well-known artists were lucky enough to be blessed with dyslexia. What about Ansel Adams, Da Vinci, Rauschenberg, Rodin and Pollock? Did you know they were all dyslexic as well?

Because I happen to like Pollock’s work and have always been fascinated by the art of his wife, Lee Krasner, I started reading Lee Krasner: A Biography by Gail Levin. I was surprised to learn that Lee was a member of the exclusive club of dyslexics as well. She had to deal not only with the struggle of being a woman in a predominantly male line of work, but, at times, her dyslexia led her to doubt her own abilities as well.

Learning of Lee Krasner’s dyslexia prompted me to explore the topic further. This exploration led me to look back on my own life with dyslexia. Unfortunately, when I was growing up, not much was known about dyslexia. Most often we were labeled as having a “learning problem.” This made me wonder how many blessed children ended up not pursuing their dreams because they were stigmatized  as being “slow.” Fortunately, many children like myself compensated in other ways and learned to be resourceful. What they couldn’t go through, they would go around.

Do you feel that your mind works differently as compared to those around you? Well, if you have dyslexia, it probably does. Chances are, if you have dyslexia, you navigate by landmarks, not by streets when you’re driving a car. When you’re asked to describe an object, you look at that object from every possible direction, not just straight on, thereby utilizing a lifetime of experience and mental images. 

This last symptom makes me think that Paul Cézanne must have been dyslexic as well. After all, he would paint a bowl of fruit straight on, but would render it from multiple angles and perspectives at the same time. Everyone thought he was being innovative, but if he had dyslexia, that would have been how he actually saw the world. 

For artists, dyslexia can be a blessing in disguise. Most dyslexics tend to think in images as opposed to words, this due in part due to the activation of  portions of the brain—which is a many adults don’t often use. Children, as they play, are calling on these same portions of the brain—a good explanation for their phenomenal imaginations. With age, many stop exercising these regions, but dyslexics spend their entire lives processing life through pictures and comparisons.

As for a “picture thinker,” a single picture may be sufficient to describe a complex concept that would require hundreds or thousands of words to describe. The famous photographer Ansel Adams was a dyslexic, and no doubt countless other photographers are as well. Ansel possessed an uncanny ability to capture entire stories and concepts in a single image. In the mind of a dyslexic, a picture is worth a thousand words. Perhaps it was a dyslexic who coined this famous adage?

“All children are artists. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.” Pablo Picasso

For me, it took awhile to understand that I actually had dyslexia; primarily because I just didn’t know what was going on. At first I thought everyone thought the way I did, but as my life evolved I realized that my thinking wasn’t always in sync with those around me.

“It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.” Pablo Picasso

One thing is for sure: once I started to better understand dyslexia, it seemed like a ton of bricks was taken off my shoulders and I learned to adjust and trust my own perceptions. Taking the time to really understand dyslexia has been a life-changing experience. I wish I would have dealt with this early on in my life. It has increased my tolerance and provided me with a better understanding of how my own thinking can be an amazing thing when the energy is directed.

If you would like more information, you may want to pick up a couple of books on the topic. I found these two books to be very helpful:

The Dyslexic Advantage, by Brock L. Eide, M.D., M.A. & Fernette F. Eide, M.D.

The Gift of Dyslexia, by Ronald D. Davis with Eldon M. Braun

I’m sure there are many more, so a quick look on Amazon or Google could be of great benefit. There are organizations to help parents and grandparents better understand children who are born with dyslexia. I would encourage all artists to learn as much as they can about the disorder, whether to better understand how it affects their own lives or the lives of their loved ones. This could drastically change the way you, your child, or grandchild functions in society.

I would never want to be not dyslexic. There are a million rewards all attached to internal and external perception. I call it peripheral thinking.

If you have dyslexia, celebrate it! You are in some pretty amazing company.

Walt Disney, Agatha Christie, Richard Branson, Bruce Jenner, Winston Churchill, Thomas Jefferson, John Lennon, Jay Leno, Albert Einstein, Steven Spielberg, and Ludwig Van Beethoven—all are dyslexics.

A work in progress by Rod Jones.

Cover photo credit: flickr/ladydragonflyCC

Rod Jones is a contemporary abstract artist in Lake Arrowhead, California. To learn more visit, www.rodjonesartist.com

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