The Most Dangerous Muse

Tsipi Shaish, a 59-year-old grandmother, knows exactly when she became an artist: when she was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2006. Before her trembling hands brought her to a neurologist, she had lived “a routine life,” she says. She worked a boring job at an insurance company for 25 years and focused on raising her two kids. She never took art lessons, and beyond the occasional museum visit, never gave any thought to art. Now she talks proudly of her own paintings that have hung in Paris and New York City galleries.

“I go to the canvas because I feel curious, I feel an uncontrollable urge,” she says. She chooses materials and paint colors in a haze of intuition, letting her hands apply strong swathes of color to create vivid abstracts. The Agora Gallery in Manhattan’s arty Chelsea District, which featured Shaish in a 2011 exhibition, states that her paintings function like landscapes with startling symbolism, combining bold colors and pastels in a “gleeful pandemonium.”

“If you ask me, ‘Why did you do this and not that?’ I wouldn’t be able to answer, because I don’t know it rationally,” Shaish says. Her creative impulses are an integral part of a new version of herself that only came into being after her diagnosis. “I’m more alive than I was 10 years ago,” she says.

Shaish is part of a subset of people with Parkinson’s disease who experience an urgent flowering of creativity even as their brain cells die and their bodies decline due to the neurodegenerative disease. Patients with no prior history of artistic proclivities begin to draw, paint, sculpt, and write poetry. In recent years case studies have shown the brains of the

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