April 8, 2008
An article in today's New York Times tells of a Canadian scientist who was suddenly seized with an uncontrollable compulsion to paint. In her mid-50's she shifted her focus from mathematics and science to painting replicas of the architecture in her neighborhood. After time, she became obsessed with the work of the musician Ravel, and created a work called Unravelling Bolero, consisting of intricate, repetitive patterns suggested by the patterns in the music.
Apparently she did not know of the rare brain disease from which both she and Ravel suffered, a condition known as frontotemporal dementia. The disease alters the circuits in the brain, changing the connection from front to back and resulting in "a torrent of creativity," according to Sandra Blakeslee of The Times.
The knowledge we are slowly gaining about the brain is extremely interesting. We have all known people who changed professions or developed talents at a late age. Now that we can scan the brain and locate the parts of it that contribute to various activities and even philosophies, we realize how much we have yet to learn.
I don't think art is a brain disease, but I think that art, in all its complexity, is not one thing or another. To attempt to define it is a childish exercise. As for me, I'd love to see Unravelling Bolero, and other
examples of the art produced by those with FTD. I always knew there was more to Bolero than showed up in the movie 10.