Art & Creativity
Creativity combines elements of emotion, planning and sensory perception, and its expression can involve a combination of linguistic, graphic and motor skills.

Creativity is one aspect of personality that is characterized by novel and appropriate (or relevant) ideas, processes or objects. Creativity has been a tough concept to nail down precisely. For example, we have not yet been able to program computers to be innovative – they handle huge but predictable, rule-based decisions. What drives creative people to transform old ideas into new ones? How can creativity be cultivated or taught? One suggestion is that your environment should include a mix of challenge and involvement, freedom, trust, openness, playfulness, humor, conflict resolution, debates and risk taking. Once thought to be a sign of divinity or insanity, we now recognize that creativity is a complex cognitive process, even if the precise mechanisms are still unclear.

The Anatomy of Creativity

Creativity combines elements of emotion, planning and sensory perception. Furthermore, creative expression can involve linguistic, graphic and/or motor skills as well. Since the frontal lobes control higher order skills, like the planning of a series of actions, the organization of a composition (see our discussion of executive functions for more detail), as well as motivation and drive to produce, they are necessarily involved in some components of creative thinking. Sensory perception, however, is distributed throughout the brain. Generally, touch is in the parietal lobes, vision in the occipital lobes and hearing, taste and smell are in the temporal lobes. The wide range of creative expression and creative personalities we see reflects the broad involvement of the brain. Individuals vary in their strengths and weaknesses, which leads to inherent differences in creativity. Changes in any of these pathways can result in increased, decreased or changed creativity.

Engagement in creative pursuits, such as painting, can often be enjoyed late into life and their potential for improving the quality of life is being investigated. We often find that patients with diseases of aging still enjoy participating in creative endeavors.

Patient Artists

Anne Theresa Adams

Though interested in drawing and painting from an early age, much of Anne Adams’ adult life was spent in left-brain activities. Obtaining a doctorate degree in cell biology from the University of British Columbia in 1982, Anne held teaching and research positions until one of her children was seriously injured in a car accident late in 1986. Thinking he would need years of specialized care, she gave up academia and decided to take up painting as a full-time career. As it turned out, her son made a miraculous recovery within two months, but Anne resolved to continue with her art. Listen to the Radiolab show on Anne Adam's “Unraveling Bolero” and read the scientific paper about Adams in “Unravelling Boléro: progressive aphasia, transmodal creativity and the right posterior neocortex” in the journal Brain.

Carol Franz
Carol painted watercolors of natural scenes.
Dane Bottino
Dane Bottino is a self-taught artist. He started drawing when he was two years of age. He is autistic and lost his beginning language about the same age.
Dick Smith
Dick was a constant walker, and his hands shook much of the time, so getting him to do any kind of art work was always difficult. He walked in a circle around the day care, and as he came by he was handed a paint brush full of paint and asked to paint on the paper. Each time he came by, the color was changed.
Fountiene Lee Duda
I did not grow up knowing my mother to be an artist. She was a mother to me and to my younger brother. She was a devoted wife to my father, often preparing an extra meal for him when he came home late from evening meetings.
Jancy Chang
Jancy Chang was an artist of many years from Santa Barbara who was actively involved in art education.
Morgan Fox
In May 2001, after receiving a diagnosis of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, Morgan began working with her close friends and family to remain physically and mentally stimulated. This led to ventures in painting which, as you can see, are a natural venue for her.
Victor J. Wightman
Victor drew cartoons from time to time, as most kids do when growing up, but he never expressed any particular interest in drawing or painting that we, his family, witnessed. Throughout his adult years, he continued running, swimming and playing basketball. It wasn’t until later, when he was 48, that things in Victor’s life seemed to change dramatically. His sister took photos of the bathroom and one bedroom room wall Victor had gradually painted in his house over the last couple of years. After considerable testing, Victor was diagnosed with FTD (frontotemporal dementia) first and ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or Lou Gehrig’s disease) within the year.