6 Artists Whose Secret Life Challenges Shaped Their Work
Sure, when life gives you lemons, you could turn them into lemonade. But you know what's even better? Turning them into beloved (and highly profitable) works of art. Some people don't just overcome their disabilities, but use them to their advantage when becoming some of the greatest artists to ever grace their fields. Such is the case with ...
Steven Spielberg's Dyslexia Turned Him Into A Detail-Oriented Director
Before he became one of the most successful film directors ever, Steven Spielberg was that "slow" kid from school everyone made fun of. It took him until the third grade to learn how to read, turning him into a source of frustration for teachers (who considered him lazy) and an easy target for bullies. But on the other hand, feeling like a weirdo made him come together with a group of misfit friends straight out of The Goonies, because they were the inspiration for The Goonies.
Young Spielberg also dealt with his learning problems by making movies, which was a language he could better understand. It was only as an adult that Spielberg found out his condition is called dyslexia, and not "being super dumb."
Even today, Spielberg says it still takes him twice as long as normal people to read a book, but he uses that extra time to absorb and memorize every little detail. Yes, the cinematic genius behind such modern masterpieces as Jurassic Park, Schindler's List, and, uh, Ready Player One has been quietly struggling to read his scripts.
ADHD Shaped Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's Filmmaking Style
Like most people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), The Revenant and Birdman director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu finds it hard to focus on one subject for an extended period of time. The difference is that while others end up reading the Wikipedia page for soap for an hour instead of working, Inarritu has used his ADHD to create a unique style and get showered with Oscars.
According to Inarritu, his ADHD has "turned into a great asset for creating parallel stories," which were a hallmark of his early films like 21 Grams and Babel. Both films contain multiple storylines presented in nonlinear fragments, as if their omniscient narrators were constantly getting bored with one story and switching to the other.
Inarritu says the role of a director is a perfect fit for him, as it requires constant multitasking, which is something he can't help but do. In one interview, he said, "I have to jump from one thing to another ... I can spend ten minutes with you and at the same time I can be thinking about something else here and something else there! It's perfect for me." (He should probably never say that to his wife.)
Some Of The World's Best Animators Have No "Mind's Eye"
A while back we told you about a neurological disorder called "aphantasia," which leaves sufferers unable to form any sort of mental picture. It's a rare condition that only affects about 2% of the population ... a good chunk of whom happen to be world-class animators.
While it's hard to imagine (sorry) drawing a picture of something you can't visualize, a surprising number of people working for the company that made Fantasia suffer from aphantasia. Academy-Award-winning animator Glen Keane, who designed The Little Mermaid's Ariel and numerous other Disney characters, is part of the club. Even while drawing, he has no means of visualizing the characters he's famous for. He's literally making them up as he goes along.
Ed Catmull, the former president of Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios, also has a "blind mind's eye." He realized there was something different about his brain when he tried to visualize an object while meditating and got the mental equivalent of a 404 error. Interested, he started speaking with the animators who worked for him, and learned that "some of the greatest talents in animation" found the concept of "just picture it" to be completely meaningless.
Charles Dickens' Characters Were Inspired By His Insomnia-Fueled Night Walks
A common thread throughout Charles Dickens' work is his depiction of the working class and their struggle to eke out an existence in Victorian London. As it happens, we probably have his poor sleeping habits to thank for that. Dickens suffered from insomnia, and since this was way before TV or the internet, he tended to spend his sleepless nights wandering London until dawn. Dickens' nighttime strolls were so impactful that he wrote a series of essays about them, collected under the name ... Night Walks.
"In the course of those nights," Dickens wrote, "I finished my education in a fair amateur experience of houselessness." The poverty and people he observed during his nocturnal ambulations (noctabulations?) were the fodder for the deep and multifaceted characters he is famous for creating.
While we have no proof of any specific character being based on a real person Dickens met during his walks, the orphans, the poor, the oppressed, and the downtrodden all likely contributed to characters like Pip and Oliver Twist. Perhaps the greatest irony is that the many novels Dickens' insomnia helped create have themselves become the perfect cure for sleeplessness in high school students.
Goya's Increasingly Dark Artwork Was Probably The Result Of An Autoimmune Disease
Here's the sort of jolly scene Spanish Romantic painter Francisco Goya created early in his career:
And here's what he painted by the end of it:
What the (possibly actual) hell happened to him? While we're sure that there are completely legitimate, non-illness-related reasons a man would want to paint a Roman god eating his child for funsies, researchers now believe Goya's increasingly dark artwork is the result of the artist's struggle with a rare autoimmune disease known as Susac syndrome.
Bedridden for months following a mysterious illness, Goya suffered headaches, hallucinations, and a complete loss of hearing, which he never regained. These symptoms, along with a loss of brain function and impaired vision, all point to diagnosis of Susac. Since there was no treatment at that time (because they didn't know what that was), it could certainly explain why Goya's artwork started to look like something he found on Satan's sketchpad.
Researchers did note that while Susac syndrome was the most likely cause of Goya's illness and decline, syphilis can cause many of the same symptoms. Unfortunately, he left us no clues or paintings titled "My Raging Syph" or "Susac Sucks," so we'll never know for sure. But speaking of syphilis ...
Shakespeare's Work Is Peppered With References To Syphilis (Probably Because He Had It)
This is gonna be a sore spot for some of the Bard's most crusty fans, but we're pretty sure Shakespeare had syphilis.
The main evidence for this claim is a wonky signature. At the time, syphilis was commonly treated with mercury, which had a number of unfortunate side effects, including uncontrollable shaking. The fact that Shakespeare developed a tremor isn't in dispute, nor that he liked to dip his nib in questionable ink pots. Therefore, there's a distinct possibility that his hands shook on account of his meds (which basically slowly poisoned you while sorta, kinda treating the symptoms). Furthermore, one of the "cardinal signs" of mercury poisoning is alopecia, or hair loss. And in case you're suffering from aphantasia or haven't seen a picture of Shakespeare lately ...
OK, so aside from being follicularly challenged and shaky, what makes us think that the greatest writer in the English language had the syph? One other indisputable fact is that as Shakespeare grew older, he became increasingly obsessed with venereal diseases (though there are references to them in his early plays). For context, Shakespeare's closest "peer," Christopher Marlowe, mentioned STDs six times in his seven plays. Compare that to three of Shakespeare's later plays. Measure For Measure has 55 mentions of STDs or syphilis, Troilus and Cressida has 61, and Timon Of Athens has a whopping 67. Really, man? 67? Dreadful missed opportunity right there.
Oh, and we're definitely not the first ones to notice this. A Clockwork Orange writer Anthony Burgess made note of Shakespeare's repeated and disjointed references to syphilis and called it a "gratuitous venereal obsession." Author D.H. Lawrence stopped short of suggesting that Shakespeare had syphilis himself, but said, "I am convinced that some of Shakespeare's horror and despair, in his tragedies, arose from the shock of his consciousness of syphilis." Or this could all just be "a tale told by an idiot ... signifying nothing."
For more, check out 7 True Stories That Should've Already Been Made Into Movies:
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