how learning artistic skills alters the brain

New research finds neural changes not only reflecting increased technical capacities, but also enhanced creativity.

Article by Tom Jacobs |  February 11, 2015 | Pacific Standard Mag

Image Source: Wellcome Library, London
Image Source: Wellcome Library, London

Are artists born, or made? At the end of Woody Allen’s great comedy Bullets Over Broadway, the John Cusack character concludes that, in spite of his desire and effort, he will never be a creative genius. He simply does not have the gift.

But is his reluctant assumption that artistry is encoded in one’s genes, or perhaps one’s soul, really true? A recently published paper suggests otherwise.

“Creativity is another concept that is often thought of as something we are either born with or will never have,” says Dartmouth College psychologist Alexander Schlegel, lead author of a paper published in the journal NeuroImage. “Our data clearly refute this notion.”

 

Schlegel and his colleagues report that taking an introductory class in painting or drawing literally alters students’ brains. What’s more, these training-induced changes didn’t only improve the fine motor control needed for sophisticated sketching; they also boosted the students’ creative thinking.

Start doing the work, and the brain responds, allowing one to build and retain not just technical knowledge, but also the imaginative capacity needed to utilize it fully.

Their study featured 35 college undergraduates, 17 of whom took a three-month introductory course in observational drawing or painting. All underwent monthly brain scans using fMRI technology.

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