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What is it Like Being an Acquired Savant Artist?

by Diana de Avila, co-author of Soldier, Sister, Savant



An intruder has entered my headspace and left me a present.


The constant hissing and the whizzing sounds in my ears originate from my brain, according to my doctors. My senses are all mixed up. Warm water and water pressure from the shower elicits sounds that feel like they are in my ears, as if an orchestra of xylophones is warming up but aren’t quite ready to play the practiced composition yet. A little dissonance here, a note there, the sounds are always the same. The instruments are tuning up and though I wish they’d get to the melody, they fall short of it every time. I didn’t ask for this.


What I just described is one of the ways synesthesia (the crossing of senses) affects me. Touch translates into sound. Imagine feeling like a stranger inside your own brain. Your constant companions, hisses and whistles, often drown more pleasant sounds which bow unwillingly to them and are not quite abated by my hearing aids.


Some of these sounds interrupt my normal trains of thought while others lead to swaths of color and colorful shapes that need me to give them life. All this noise is part of my art gift. My art is often camouflaged and created by an overload to my senses. And it happens daily. Here’s what seems to be at play:

1) The daily need to create art even though I’ve never had that desire, the learning, or the talent to do so;

2) The fodder for art content through shapes, sounds, and colors in my head.


Since 2017, I am a stranger in my own brain! My brain leads me, walking a few steps ahead, guiding my thoughts, my vision, my hands or stylus on the keyboard or tablet. It guides me to places I’ve never explored before and asks me to embark on adventures and do things I’ve never learned.


The compulsion to create supersedes sleeping, eating and playing. Creating is work for me and it’s a full-time job. The creative savant energy has no lulls and it seems that my brain is always firing and ready for work. Too much time away from this creative impetus and I am off kilter—my life feels out of balance.


Being a savant and living up to the “requirements” of the gift is hard. It makes my life lopsided in ways that I never imagined. A portion of my art is visible in Soldier, Sister, Savant and on my website. But terabytes exist on external hard drives and in the cloud. As a savant I realize that as I create, there is inherent knowledge—accidental genius—that lives deep within my brain and drives my art processes to places I never could have imagined or known technologically.


Uninvited as is this savant intruder within me I am blessed as well by its presence. Creating art is my compulsive but welcome distraction from disability left by traumatic brain injury and multiple sclerosis. My art is a gift to me—and, I hope, to others.

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