Excerpt from Magic Happens - the story of Painting with Parkinsons, by Nancy Tingey

The Honorary Chair of the Creativity and Parkinson’s Committee for the congress was Oliver Sacks. In the introduction to a catalogue for the exhibition, he wrote that when he was studying neurology in the early 1960s, before the drug Levadopa (L-dopa) became available to treat people with Parkinson’s, he saw an artist with very severe Parkinsonism who said he could still paint large canvases.  


'I was incredulous [wrote Sacks]. He could hardly move – but he invited me to his ranch, to see for himself. He was brought in his wheelchair to a blank canvas, and a paintbrush was put in his hand, he was completely motionless, and I could not imagine how he would proceed, but suddenly, with a wide sweeping movement, he made his first brushstroke, and from then on completed a large and exuberant painting without the least sign of his Parkinsonism … When he was finished, he sank back in his chair and became almost completely motionless again.


I have seen such effects – whether with art, music, dance or performance, over and over again since. The therapeutic power of art is temporary … But knowing that they can be liberated in this way and in doing so, reclaim, for a while, their healthy selves, is profoundly encouraging and therapeutic for patients with Parkinsonism.


Moreover, I suspect…that the ability to turn creative activity may, perhaps, slow the advance of the disease. And even if it does not, it can activate the patient, allowing him to fight and sometimes conquer it for years on end.’


Oliver Sacks, Creativity and Parkinson’s, World Parkinson Congress Journal, February 22-26, 2006, p1


As I write [April 2017], I look back over 30 years of living with Parkinson’s disease. Bob has been in care for 15 years, wheelchair-bound for most of that time. He needs two people and a lifting machine to transfer him.  He can’t talk and needs help with eating and drinking. But he can still paint.


From the beginning, Bob described Painting with Parkinsons as a ‘can do’ activity when most other things have been taken away. This story shows that Oliver Sacks knew what he was talking about.


(Footnote – Bob Tingey died on 17 November 2017. He had been a member of Painting with Parkinsons for 19 years and was painting until ten days before he died. Apart from that he could not move at all without help.)"