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Introduction

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Dyslexia is a specific learning disability that is neurobiological in origin. It is characterised by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. These difficulties typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language that is often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities and the provision of effective classroom instruction. (Lyon, Shaywitz, & Shaywitz, 2003, p. 2)

The above is one of the most complete definitions of Dyslexia and comes from over 20 years of research. Unfortunately, I cannot actually provide you with a unanimously agreed upon definition, as one does not currently exist. Dyslexia appears in a variety of ways and is a heterogeneous learning disability. A variety of neurological differences underlie the disorder (Ramus, 2006, p.90-91) that can result in a range of difficulties. Although the literature emphasizes phonological processing differences, the disorder can include differences related to visual spatial attention and peripheral visual processing (Facoetti, 2004, p. 61 ).  Research in the area of dyslexia as a whole is at best lacking, and at worst possibly depriving an individual of progressing in many aspects of his/her life. The learning difficulty affects only 4% of the world’s population, and despite popular belief is NOT the product of neurological damage, but the product of neurological development. As previously stated, people who have dyslexia experience difficulties in processing and using linguistic and symbolic codes i.e the left side of the brain, but I am more interested in a dyslexic’s right brain. The hemisphere of conceptualisation, reason, imagination, abstraction and perception. 
I plan to explore the impacts of dyslexia first as a learning disability, secondly I will speak about well known artists and designers who have been diagnosed as dyslexic, and finally the effect the disorder has on the creative brain. I will also argue that dyslexics undoubtedly have the ability to reign superior in the art and design world. “There is definite proof of a link between dyslexia and visual spatial ability,” says Thomas West, author of In The Mind’s Eye.

 

Chapter One: What do we know about Dyslexia?

Dyslexia has been present amongst humans since humans could read in the first place. Each individual with dyslexia experiences it differently and this is why people working in the field are finding it so difficult to produce an actual definition of the disability. Experts have conducted numerous neurological, physical and social tests to try to further understand dyslexia, but from my research I believe it is impossible to gain a whole understanding of what dyslexia is unless you experience it firsthand every day. On December 21st 1895, James Hinshelwood, an optic surgeon from Glasgow, Scotland, published an article in the journal “The Lancet” on the issue of visual memory and word blindness. This article inspired W. Pringle Morgan, a general doctor of the seashore town of Seaford, to describe the case of an extremely intelligent fourteen year-old boy who  couldn’t learn how to read. His article, published in the British Medical Journal on November 7th 1896, is considered as one of the first reports about congenital word blindness, if not the first. In this sense, Morgan is recognised as the father of developmental dyslexia. Through my research I have discovered that dyslexia is often described as ‘the way your brain is wired’. There is no ‘cure’, but people with dyslexia often teach themselves strategies to overcome their difficulties. Dyslexics develop alternative methods to read and write and they organise their brains circuitry in alternative ways to ‘normal’ people. Individuals with regular cognitive functioning use the left hemisphere of the brain to read and write while dyslexics use the frontal lobe and the right brain. 
One of the biggest problem with dyslexia is the generation of low self-esteem. This is often as a result of poor interaction with the education system, which can label those with dyslexia as “deficient” or “unenthusiastic” for learning as a whole without taking into account the problems that dyslexia can create. (B.Evans, M. 2017) 

Dyslexic people have to work harder to overcome their difficulties. The challenges they have to conquer from an early age teach the dyslexic person to persist when faced with setbacks. They learn to look at problems from multiple angles and find new ways around their inadequacies. Having to work out creative solutions trains them to overcome challenges and turns them into natural problem solvers. “I use my dyslexia in everything I do. It’s my technique. It began as an accident.” (Gudrun Hasle – Dutch fine artist, Fig.1) 
Learning to deal with the “disability” leaves space for a possibly more tangible and profound content and subject matter in relation to the creation of art, “Whatever the source of creativity, art is always founded on experience; one cannot create from nothing.” (Sandbloom, P. 1992). Professor
of learning development at Yale University, Dr. Sally Shaywitz, argues that dyslexia should be viewed as a benefit, not a drawback. She has said, “I want people to wish they were dyslexic.” Shaywitz co-founded the Yale Centre for Dyslexia & Creativity, which studies the connection.
The most recent breakthrough in dyslexic research I have come across is an experiment by the scientist Dr. Nicola Brunswick. She, along with researchers from Middlesex University believe dyslexia is a crucial factor behind some of the world’s most recognised artworks, such as the Mona Lisa. The team tested the visuospatial ability (the ability to process three dimensional information) of forty one men and women, half of which had been diagnosed with dyslexia. Visuospatial ability is said to be essential for artistic talent. (Brunswick, N. 2010). The dyslexic individuals excelled on many of the tests including remembering reproduced images and navigating themselves through a virtual three dimensional town. The researchers involved believe this suggests that dyslexics have a better understanding of space. Dr. Brunswick mentions; “Many dyslexic people prefer to work out problems by thinking and doing rather than speaking. This could help dyslexic men and women develop the kind of skills they need to succeed in the artistic and creative worlds.” (2010 Learning and individual Differences)

Chapter Two: Dyslexic Artists and Designers
There is a remarkable number of very well know and successful artists who have been said to have had dyslexia. These include Leonardo Da Vinci, Jackson Pollock, Pablo Picasso, August Rodin, Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg and the list goes on.
One remarkable indication that Leonardo Da Vinci was likely dyslexic is in his handwriting. Leonardo was constantly sketching out his innovative ideas. Most of the time, he wrote his notes in reverse, making them very difficult to read without a mirror. Although unusual, this is a trait sometimes shared by other left-handed dyslexic adults. Most of the time, dyslexic writers are not even consciously aware that they are writing this way; it is simply an easier and more natural way for them to write. Leonardo’s spelling is also considered quite strange and somewhat erratic.(Fig.2) 
Figure 2. Notes from Leonardo DaVinci’s notebook

He also started many more projects than he ever finished – a characteristic now often associated with attention deficit disorder (ADD). However, when it came to his drawing and artwork, Leonardo’s work is detailed and precise. Da Vinci was massively i   intrigued with the concept of human flight,    and spent many years toying with various ideas for flying machines. When he drew one of his flying machines, he wrote (backwards, of course): “A small model can be made of paper with a spring like metal shaft that after having been released, after having been twisted, causes the  screw to spin up into the air.” 
         
Figure 4 : Monogram Robert Rauschenberg 1958
(1958) This is just one manifestation of the artist’s ability (or lack of) to linguistically communicate his thought and ideas. However the drawing of this mechanism seems mechanically accurate and makes perfect sense (Fig.3). His extraordinary art work and inventive genius are proof that he truly possessed gift that is dyslexia. 
Another extremely successful and well know dyslexic artist is Robert Rauschenberg. He describes his own dyslexia as a difficulty with language and was not diagnosed with dyslexia until he was well into his adulthood (Young and Davidson, 1998, p.559). Rauschenberg admits that he struggles with both reading and writing, as well as reversals (Mattison, 2003, p. 34.) Since the overall effect on an individual with dyslexia impacts more than the ability to use language, it likely contributed to the shape of Rauschenberg’s personality and his life as a creative individual. (Smythe, I. 2010). His neurological make up and the differences in his visual processing system perhaps caused him to see the value in objects in the world around him in unique ways. These differences may have allowed him to see the possibilities of incorporating the objects of his every day life into his art.(Fig.4)
“Every time you walk into a Chelsea gallery and you see art that is made out of stuff from the real world, that’s coming off the walls, that’s interdisciplinary in its approach, and that’s
performative in its implications, you are seeing the legacy of Rauschenberg,” 
says Leah Dickerman of New York’s Museum of Modern Art.

Rauschenberg’s work portrays a sense of disorganisation and some would say comes across as unfocused (Gobbo, K. 2010). This could perhaps be an attempt to physically visually represent the chaos caused in the artist’s brain due to his dyslexia diagnosis. Robert Rauschenberg’s chaotic and extremely successful methods of creating art, I believe are the product of his dyslexia.
  Dyslexic sculptor Willard Wigan says; 
“It began when I was five years old.  I started making houses for ants because I thought they needed somewhere to live. Then I made them shoes and hats. It was a fantasy world I escaped to where my dyslexia didn’t hold me back and my teachers couldn’t criticize me. That’s how my career as a micro-sculptor began.” 

Wigan has turned the end of a matchstick into the royal couple Prince Edward and Sophie Rhys-Jones, which he entitled, “Edward and Sophie: The Perfect Match.” Some of his other works include carving into pieces of a crushed grain of sand to form a polar bear and turning a nylon tag into Buzz Aldrin. He’s also crafted Peter Pan, Wendy, Tinker Bell, John and Michael on the tip of a fishing hook, and Alice, the Hare, and the Mad Hatter at a tea party.  All characters from books he would struggle to read.
Wigan never let his dyslexia stop him from succeeding in life (a common characteristic amongst dyslexics). The artist turned his teachers’ taunts into a challenge: to turn “nothing” into something very special.  “Just because you don’t see it, doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist” he points out. In a sense, Wigan takes an assortment of what most of us would consider useless or nothing, and turns it into something beyond its scale – once it is viewed under a microscope.  He grabs fibres floating in the air and cobwebs from corners and transforms them into intricate detailed sculptures that are admired around the world.
Pablo Picasso, I believe earned his spot as one of the most well known, successful and influential painters of the 20th century due to the “mis-wiring” of the artists’ brain. Picasso was severely dyslexic (Temple, C. 2016). You could say it was almost obvious that the artist didn’t exactly possess an ‘ordinary’ cognitive layout. As the founding father of cubism, Picasso’s paintings present subjects backwards, upside down and practically inside out. Most of his audience interpret these abstract scenes and gaudy figures simply as a product of the man’s imagination, I believe otherwise. These blatantly crude figures with corrupted features were a reality for Pablo Picasso. 
He painted scenes as he saw them, allowing his orientation-affecting dyslexia to guide both his imagination and his paintbrush to create historic and iconic pieces of art. 
During my research I came across an exhibition from September 2016. The exhibition took place at Granary Square, Kings Cross, London and was entitled Dyslexic Design. Thirteen dyslexic designers exhibited their work alongside one another to portray dyslexia as a tool in the design process, rather than the universally accepted perception of dyslexia as a negative. The successful British designer Jim Rokos curated and exhibited in Dyslexic Design. Jim creates playful, sculptural objects that behave in unexpected ways. The products almost express a certain personality. I find one of Rokos’ pieces; GAUGE (Fig.6) particularly interesting due to the notion of the product adopting the behaviour of the object inside.
Rokos (along with the majority of the other designers who participated in the exhibition) actually credits his “disability” for his designing skills. Each designer is not only proud to be dyslexic but grateful also, they see dyslexia as a gift. One designer Ab Rogers states “Dyslexia actually helps me as a designer. It allows me to see things in three dimensions and remember colours, conversations, tastes and smells with real accuracy.” “Without dyslexia I would not be able to design. I believe my visual perspective is a gift,” he continues. In a radio interview with Brent Bambury, Rokos says, “I believe that my ability to design the way I do, is a result of my dyslexia.” 

I believe the very core motive of this exhibition is to enlighten the public (dyslexic or not) of how   beautiful this thing we call a “disability” really is, or can be. There is also a sense of trying to train the non dyslexic eye to how the designers see the world. The Dyslexic Design logo is made in a font designed by Daniel Britton; (Fig.7) 
What this typeface does is break down the reading time of a non-dyslexic down to the  speed of a dyslexic. I wanted to make non-Dyslexic people understand what it is like to read with the condition and to recreate the frustration and embarrassment of reading everyday text and then in turn to create a better understanding of the dyslexia.

Figure 7:
Dyslexic Design Logo

Jim Rokos and the other designers simply want to present to us the undeniably exceptional qualities and abilities amidst the “learning difficulty” that is Dyslexia.

Chapter Three: Inside the Mind of a Dyslexic

So, we now know what dyslexia is and who it affects, but do we know how exactly an individual experiences this cognitive mis-wiring? We know dyslexics may struggle to read an write but what else takes place inside the mind of a dyslexic artist? I conducted numerous interviews with students in the National College of Art and Design who have been diagnosed with dyslexia. My first observation was the lack of feedback when I publicly scouted for participants. From my research I found that the National College of Art and Design’s student body contained  8.5% of individuals diagnosed with a learning difficulty in the 2015/16 academic year. (Heelan, A. 2017 p.13) Also, that of all disciplines studied in almost every university in the country, Humanities and The Arts obtained the highest percentage (24.4%) of students with a recognised disability. (Heelan, A. 2017 p.23). Considering that almost a quarter of the student body studying a similar discipline to my own were possibly dyslexic, I expected much more of a response. My interest then lay with “why aren’t students speaking up about dyslexia?”
According to Erik Erikson’s psychosocial stages of development, during the first years of school, every child must resolve the conflicts between a positive self-image and feelings of inferiority. If children succeed in school, they will develop positive feelings about themselves and believe that they can succeed in later life (McLeod, S. 2017). However I presume the opposing outcome would be that of a dyslexic’s, not succeeding in school in earlier years may cause the individual to develop very negative feelings about themselves and their abilities. This then indefinitely causes issues with self confidence, feeling as if their effort makes very little difference. Instead of feeling powerful and productive, they learn that their environment controls them. They feel powerless and incompetent. Kim McGovern, an NCAD student I interviewed, admits that she felt “stupid” when she found out that she was dyslexic;
I felt really stupid. I was held back a year in primary school and my parents had never told me I was diagnosed with dyslexia. They decided not to tell me but I figured it out because I was held back with a boy who was also dyslexic and I was always asking questions. I know I was seven but in my head he was the stupid one, so when my parents told me I was dyslexic, the word would definitely be stupid. I felt stupid.

Anxiety is the most common emotional symptom associated with Dyslexia (Ryan, M. 2004). This is likely spurred from a dyslexics lack of ability to perform well in school, possible ridiculing from teachers and other classmates etc. This would then lead to constant frustration and confusion in any educational setting for the individual. The dyslexic then anticipates failure in almost all settings due to the inconsistencies of the disability, and therefore it is extremely common for someone with dyslexia to develop General Anxiety Disorder (GAD). Teachers and parents often misinterpret a dyslexic’s hesitancy to participate as laziness, when in reality it is usually due to confusion, frustration and anxiety.

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