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How A Stroke Changed Katherine Sherwood's Art

Neuroskeptic iconNeuroskeptic
By Neuroskeptic
Apr 15, 2012 6:33 PMNov 5, 2019 12:14 AM


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In 1997, American artist Katherine Sherwood was 44 when she suffered a major stroke. She writes about her experience and how it changed her work in a fascinating article just out, How a Cerebral Hemorrhage Altered My Art

All of the images below are examples of her work, taken from the paper.

Sherwood writes that she had long been interested in the brain. She incorporated neuroscience themes into her work even before the stroke. Here's a 1990 piece:

Then, out of the blue, her life was changed:

The next May I experienced a cerebral hemorrhage affecting the parietal lobe of the dominant hemisphere [i.e. the left side of the brain, which controls the right side of the body]. I lost my ability to walk, talk, read, and think as my right side became paralyzed within the course of 2 min. It happened during a graduate student’s critique... I do not recall saying this but one of my colleagues reported that the last thing I said was “Oh no, not again.” I was referring to the death of my father at age 33 from an aneurysm. This was when my life caught up to my art...

Six months later after my brain had absorbed my spilled blood I had a cerebral angiogram. Relieved that it was over and the possible second stroke had not occurred, I sat up on the gurney and looked at the computer screen in the corner of the room. The images of the arterial system of my brain both stunned and reminded me of the Southern Song Dynasty Chinese landscape paintings that I had deeply admired. I immediately said without thinking, “I need those images.” The room broke out in laughter which I still do not understand. I repeated, “No, I am an artist and I really need those images.”

Sherwood never regained the use of her right hand. She had previously relied on her right hand to paint with, and she was forced to learn to use her left, and this led to changes in her style.

To compensate for the loss of fine dexterity from using her off hand, she started to paint on larger canvasses, using different materials and a "freer" approach.

As a neuroscientist, the main question at the back of my mind reading this was, did damage to her left parietal lobe have a "direct" effect on her mind and personality which altered her artistic process, beyond making her use her left hand etc? Sherwood writes that she's just not sure:

[some writers] proposed that my new success came from changes in my brain, particularly in the disruption of “the interpreter.” My artist friends vehemently disagreed with this assessment, preferring to believe it had something to do with the 20-years of painting I had done before my cerebral hemorrhage and my ample time to paint while I was recovering. I leave it up to mystery, a category that drives my doctors crazy.

Link: On a slightly different note see the Neurocritic'sSuffering For Art Is Still Suffering

Sherwood, K. (2012). How a Cerebral Hemorrhage Altered My Art Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 6 DOI: 10.3389/fnhum.2012.00055

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