Artists have structurally different brains compared with non-artists…
In a study, published in NeuroImage, participants’ brain scans revealed that artists had increased neural matter in areas relating to fine motor movements and visual imagery.
This research, in brief, suggests that an artist’s talent could be innate.
But training and environmental upbringing also play crucial roles in their ability, the authors reported.
As in many areas of science, the exact interplay of nature and nurture remains unclear.
Could artists simply SEE the world differently?
Lead author of yet another study, Rebecca Chamberlain from KU Leuven, Belgium, said she was interested in finding out how artists saw the world differently.
“The people who are better at drawing really seem to have more developed structures in regions of the brain that control for fine motor performance and what we call procedural memory,” she explained.
In their small study, researchers peered into the brains of 21 art students and compared them to 23 non-artists using a scanning method called voxel-based morphometry.
These detailed scans revealed that the artist group had significantly more grey matter in an area of the brain called the precuneus in the parietal lobe.
“This region is involved in a range of functions but potentially in things that could be linked to creativity, like visual imagery – being able to manipulate visual images in your brain, combine them and deconstruct them,” Dr Chamberlain told the BBC’s Inside Science Program.
So what is the reason for this huge difference between accomplished artists and novices/non-artists?
1 – Difference in Brain Structure
According to various research studies, the difference literally lies in the structure and functioning of the brain. A study published in the journal NeuroImage looked at differences in the brains of 44 graduate and postgraduate art and non-art students who were asked to complete various drawing tasks. Brain scans of these students were obtained and subjected to an analysis called voxel-based morphometry, which assesses the volume of grey and white matter in brain regions that are thought to be functional in those tasks. The scores obtained by students on the drawing tasks were then correlated with the regional grey and white matter volume in cortical and subcortical structures.
These results mean that brain areas of artists that are involved and crucial in skilled performance related to drawing are more enhanced than those same areas of non-artists.
2 – YES: Artists Do View the World Differently
Art professors have long maintained that training students to see the world in a different way is critical to their development as an artist. Contrary to common belief, our visual system does not actually see objects, but rather shadows, contours, edges and other surface features that help us infer the identity of objects. Artists know this either intuitively or through training.
In a study published in the journal Perception, scientists tried to see where in the visual field artists and non-artists focus their gaze to comprehend what is being seen by using an eye tracker. In scientific terms, they tried to see whether there is a difference in the visual scan paths between artists and non-artists. In another session, both the groups again looked at pictures with the goal of remembering them later. The results showed that when passively viewing images, artists’ eyes tended to scan the whole picture, including apparently empty expanses of ocean or sky, while non-artists focused in on objects, especially people. Non-artists spent about 40 percent of the time looking at objects, while artists focused on them only 20 percent of the time.
The results clearly suggest that non-artists were busy converting pictures into concepts, while artists were busy looking at contours and shadows. However, in the second phase, when they were explicitly instructed to remember pictures, artists could shift their scanning strategy and scan patterns to be more similar to non-artists. Even when imitating the scan path of a non-artist, artists were still able to recall more details than non-artists.
When common people draw, they try to draw an object, which is why it looks nothing like the one they see. Artists instead focus on the whole visual field and place the shadows and surfaces on the paper, along with the “subject”. The end result is a much more life-like picture. Fortunately, this paints an optimistic picture for novices, since one can develop this ability with sufficient awareness and training.
Essentially, all this research tells us that having an ‘artistic point of view’ is not a myth after all!