Monday, October 18, 2010

Brain Damage and Creativity

Source: The Philadelphia Inquirer. Written by Paul Jablow. Monday, 18 October 2010. Retrieved from:


Historically there have been many cases of artists producing their great works while their brains have been suffering heavy neurological damage. Ravel, for instance, composed Bolero, one of his best known works, while suffering from frontotemporal dementia. Artist Katherine Sherwood and famed jazz guitarist Pat Martino are two modern examples of people who continued to work in highly creative capacities after experiencing severe brain trauma. Martino suffered from a brain aneurysm that required a surgery which removed 60% of his left temporal lobe and, subsequently, destroyed his musical memory. Martino had to teach himself how to play again by listening to his old recordings. With the advent of new technologies, particularly that of fMRI, neurologists are attempting to get to the source of creativity. For neurologist Anjan Chaterjee creativity encompasses a wide spectrum: from creativity in the arts, to creativity in mathematics, to military tactical creativity which allows soldiers behind enemy lines to survive. Even when artists are able to recover from brain damage and continue in their career, their art undergoes changes as a result from the new or different ways in which their brains now deal with the creative and aesthetic experience. Sherwood’s art went from being esoteric and cerebral to being more abstract and less intricate. Martino similarly claims that when soloing, he now treats the notes differently and concentrates more on focusing “on the moment when you can't see a past and a future… The less control, the better." Neuroscientists Corballis theorizes that such brain trauma often allows creative elements of the mind to operate more freely, particularly when the injury harms linguistics ability. Although fMRIs remain an integral tool in such processes, one of their main drawbacks is that it does not allow the patient to move around, thereby limiting the situations in which the brain can be engaged and observed. Corballis notes that he has worked on patients who have undergone a rare form of surgery which virtually separates the two halves of the brain, allowing the left hemisphere to function almost independently of the right. An additional tool which has been brought into neurological research is transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), a method used for treatment of Parkinson's and other disorders.


Although still in their infancy, these methods of research and neurological observation are fascinating in their ability to look into the conscious and subconscious activities of the brain. Such links between creativity and brain functions are particularly interesting. By understanding the minutiae of the neurological responses to the aesthetic experience, the inherent human need for aesthetic creativity will be better understood. Furthermore, the firmer the grasp we have on how our brains respond to creative stimuli, the better our ability will be to heal the minds of those who are suffering from head trauma, degenerative brain disorders, and the like. In this way, society may come to enjoy music and the arts not only for their beauty and technical excellence, but also as an important healing tool.

1 comment:

Leila said...

I absolutely believe in music as a therapetic tool, especially in neuropsychiatric diseases, but I wouldn't dare to think about increased creativity in damaged brain before reading this article. It's amazing that how brain damage, by removing some inhibitory synapses maybe (my understanding), helps the creativity part to function more freely.
Some anti anxiety medications (Benzodiazepines) by blocking some synapses remove the stress and help musicians to perform better and students to think more efficiently in their exams. This might have a similar machanism!
Thanks a lot. I really enjoyed reading the article.