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Hardcover First Edition

When Walls Become Doorways

Creativity and the Transforming Illness

by Tobi Zausner, PhD

How a time of physical illness can become the source of our greatest strength and the doorway to a more creative existence

Illness may feel like an impassible barrier, but it can become the doorway to a new and more creative existence. Dr. Tobi Zausner, learned this through personal experience. After being diagnosed with a very aggressive type of ovarian cancer in 1989, her doctor didn’t think she would last the year, but instead her life transformed for the better. Dr. Zausner and the others artists discussed in this book, show us that the wall of illness can became a door of opportunity leading to a new life and more creativity than they ever imagined.

Many of the world’s greatest masterpieces were inspired by an artist’s poor physical health. Leonardo da Vinci, Frida Kahlo, Michelangelo, Rembrandt, Georgia O’Keeffe, Henri Matisse, and Dorothea Lange are among the many artists whose physical disorders enhanced their creativity and transformed their lives. Illness shaped their work, and their masterpieces changed our world. Even individuals in the most difficult situations have used illness to inspire their creativity. Faced with increasing blindness, Edgar Degas changed his way of working and produced some of the best work of his life. Raymond Hu, born with Downs Syndrome, invented a technique that fuses Chinese and Western painting. Dave Drake, who was born a slave in South Carolina, did his greatest work after a debilitating accident as did the Native American painter Frank Day. They show us that the worst of times can bring out the best in us.


Using fascinating and well-documented life stories of artists and drawing upon her own experience, Dr. Zausner offers us ways to access our own creative abilities and turn a time of poor health into achievement and a more meaningful new life.

Praise for the Book

“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.”

          —Publishers Weekly


“From darkness to light, from pain to beauty; seeing how these artists transform illness can change lives.”

          —Ruth Richards. MD, PhD, Saybrook Graduate School, San Francisco and

             Harvard Medical School


“This book is wonderful – a real treasure of information.”

          —Bruce L. Miller, MD, A.W. & Mary Margaret Clausen Distinguished

             Professor University of California at San Francisco, School of Medicine


“Regardless of your interest in art or health, I cannot recommend this book highly enough”

            Leonardo Reviews On line / Leonardo  / The International Society for the Arts,  

             Sciences, and Technology

“This is an inspiring, pleasurable, and at times, quite moving book. Tobi Zausner has done a huge amount of research to bring to the reader an astonishing number of personal stories concerning the transformative power of illness.”

            —Metapsychology Online Reviews


“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


“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


“These case histories illustrate how fundamental creativity is to human functioning and resilience.”

            —Society for Chaos Theory in Psychology and Life Sciences Newsletter

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