The brain damage wrought by a minor stroke can alter the way artists paint

The brain damage wrought by a minor stroke can alter the way artists paint, changing the colour palette and level of detail depicted, shows a small study in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry.

The study reports on two professional painters, both of whom had a stroke, located in the left occipital lobe of the brain and limbic thalamus, respectively.

The occipital lobe is involved in the processing of mental imagery, while the thalamus is connected to the frontal lobes, which are involved in creativity.

The choice of subject matter did not change in either case, when the painters resumed their work. But there were distinct changes in style, as judged by an art critic and a professional painter, who compared the paintings done before and after the stroke.

In the first case, a 57 year old right hander who had a stroke in the occipital lobe, the depiction of human limbs became thinner, sharper, and more stylised, while details became simplified. More light was deployed in his work, which also became more abstract.

The painter admitted that whereas, before his stroke, he had lain down and visualised the canvas for an hour before beginning to paint, he could no longer do this. Instead, his inspiration came “a little at a time while painting, rather than before I start.”

The second case was a 71 year old who was ambidextrous, but had used his right hand more than his left before the stroke. This reversed afterwards, and more structure and linear organisation, bolder colours and contrasts featured in his work. He switched from figurative to more realistic depictions.

Other neurological damage can also have an impact, say the authors. Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease have been shown in some patients to change emotional expression and artistic creativity.

Contact: Dr Julien Bogousslavsky, Department of Neurology, Lausanne University Hospital, Switzerland. Tel: +41 21 314 1220/12280 Email: [email protected]

Click here to view the papers in full


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