More Gray Matter!
A study by Rebecca Chamberlain from KU Leuven, Belgium has found that artists have structurally different brains, compared with non-artists. Well, that explains a lot! I’m sure many of us have suspected as much, but now science is beginning to look into the matter and this small study has revealed some surprising details that distinguish the creative brain. Using a brain scanning method called voxel-based morphometry, researchers peered into the brains of 21 art students and 23 non-artists. What they found was that the artist group had significantly more gray matter in a region of the brain involved in visual imagery.
|The Inner Studio, Tenth Street by William Merritt Chase, 1882.|
Dr. Chamberlain also asked the participants to complete drawing tasks. Those better at drawing had increased gray and white matter in the cerebellum and in the supplementary motor area, involved in fine motor control. Related studies performed with creative persons in other fields (such as music) also suggests enhanced processing in these areas.
“It falls into line with evidence that focus of expertise really does change the brain. The brain is incredibly flexible in response to training and there are huge individual differences that we are only beginning to tap into,” reports Dr. Chamberlain. This sounds to us like reinforcement of the 10,000 hour rule. Practice makes perfect perhaps because the brain is rewired to constantly get better at it while we work. Talent in art is useful, but persistence, especially in developing a skill, counts for more. Combine the two and eventually a great artist emerges from the years of hard brain-training effort.
Ellen Winner of Boston College, who was not involved in the study, said that this study should help “to put to rest the facile claims that artists use ‘the right side of their brain’ given that increased gray and white matter were found in the art group in both left and right structures of the brain.” What would really nail all the data down would be a large-scale prospective study of the creative vs. non-creative brain. In the meantime, it is interesting to remember all the hours we spent with a pencil in our hands as we were growing up. Who knew then that we were not just having fun, but shaping our very future abilities in the process?
Join us for some camaraderie on The Artist’s Road. You’ll find tips, interesting articles and interviews with artists. Members enjoy a discount in The Artist’s Road Store, where you’ll find the Impressionist Masterpieces from the Musée d’Orsay and Impressionists of the Water Color Books for young artists.
–John and Ann