Scar painter Ted Meyer to lecture and lead workshops at Stanford

Painter Ted Meyer makes art from scars and helps medical students remember that patients are people. He’ll be at Stanford Aug. 14-17.

- By Rosanne Spector

Artist Ted Meyer will discuss his "Scarred for Life" project Aug. 14-17. See the photo gallery below for examples of his work.

Ted Meyer’s career as an artist was succeeding beyond his dreams. Though he was often in great physical pain — a result of Gaucher disease he had faced since childhood — his paintings were critically acclaimed, shown in galleries around the world.

Then, in his mid-30s, he lost his muse: He had begun a newly available treatment for Gaucher disease, and his symptoms vanished.

“All of a sudden, everything that had been the motivation for my artwork disappeared. I wasn’t in pain or fatigued. I wasn’t worried about dying young,” said Meyer, whose paintings had been expressions of his anguish.

He felt great, he said, but as an artist he was lost — until a conversation at an art opening with a woman in a wheelchair wearing a backless dress that showed a long scar running down her spine. Though partly paralyzed, she was nonetheless an actress and dancer. Their meeting set him on a new course: creating art that tells the stories of survivors of health crises.    

‘Scarred for Life’

Meyer, this year’s Sterling Visiting Professor in the Department of Chemical & Systems Biology, will be at Stanford Aug. 14-17 to speak and lead workshops that continue telling those stories. His aim, he said, is to round out the medical profession’s view of patients’ lives.

Attendees will learn about his project “Scarred for Life: Mono-prints of Human Scars.” The project began when Meyer printed the dancer’s scar — a result of surgeries to repair damage from the zip line accident that had paralyzed her. He added details to the print with paint and color pencil and paired the result with a photograph of the dancer showing the scar slathered with paint on her back.

Now 59, Meyer still paints. He also teaches medical students. As the artist in residence at the Keck School of Medicine of USC, he brings artists with chronic illnesses to the medical school to exhibit their work and meet with students.

“My hope is that over the month each show is up, it is not only beautiful or compelling but it tells the story of what the life is like for an artist,” said Meyer.

“You can see a lot of things besides, ‘I was in pain for five years.’ If the med students see it over and over, I hope it will remind them that they’re really dealing with patients and not a pile of symptoms.”

The talks and workshops at Stanford, listed below, are open to the public:

  • Talk — A Patient Life, 4-6 p.m. Aug. 14 in Munzer Auditorium at the Beckman Center.
  • Workshop — Scarred for Life, 10 a.m. Aug. 15 in rooms 4105-4107 of the Center for Clinical Sciences Research. The event will feature a roundtable discussion on the representation of scars and the meaning and stories behind them, as well as the creation of prints of workshop participants’ scars.
  • Workshop — The Collective Experience: Charting Illnesses that have Touched You, Your Family and Friends, 10 a.m. Aug. 16 rooms 4105-4107 of the Center for Clinical Sciences Research.
  • Talk and presentation — Art and Med, 4-6 p.m. Aug. 17 in Munzer Auditorium.

About Stanford Medicine

Stanford Medicine is an integrated academic health system comprising the Stanford School of Medicine and adult and pediatric health care delivery systems. Together, they harness the full potential of biomedicine through collaborative research, education and clinical care for patients. For more information, please visit

2023 ISSUE 3

Exploring ways AI is applied to health care