The human mind and the workings of the brain have always fascinated me. During high school, I took my first class in Psychology, and was immediately enthralled. I traveled to Berkeley for the National Youth Leadership Forum on Medicine before my senior year, solidifying my plan to become a psychiatrist. A vivid memory from that experience was when a medical student toured my youth group through a room full of recently carved cadavers, joking that even though those working with cadavers were not supposed to give the lifeless human shells names, he called his Abra. Apparently, the moniker was in honor of this particular med student's love for The Wizard of Id comic strip. I can still vividly recall seeing grey matter protruding from skull in that room of bodily study. Like the brain leaving the nostrils of ancient Egyptians, I was completely hooked.
During the first two years of college, I majored in Psychology. As I advanced in my studies, I began to let go of my creative hobbies, including theater and photography. I no longer tried out for productions, and I stopped making artwork. After my sophomore year, it finally hit me. Something was missing. I realized that as much as I loved learning about how the mind works, I did not want to spend the rest of my life as a psychiatrist. I had never been a big fan of math, and Psychology is chock-full of statistics. As well, I came to see fully some of the great problems within the medical field, namely misdiagnosis and mass medication. Most importantly, I could no longer ignore that nagging voice inside my head that told me I had given up something sacred by not continuing with my personal artistic processes. It took changing my major to Studio Art to understand that my fascination with the mind did not need to end, but rather, I could continue my exploration through the arts, and eventually through teaching.
My profession as an artist and educator has led me to many realizations about the creative brain, and I continue to discover new wonders each day. I thought I'd touch on a couple of examples that highlight how creativity reveals the magnificence of our brains. A few years ago, I watched a wonderful PBS program called How Art Made the World (linked below). The second episode of the series explores how prehistoric artists were influenced by altered states of consciousness. Researchers such as archaeologist J.D. Lewis-Williams and psychiatrist Dominic Ffytche, both featured in this episode, have found strong correlations between the images made in prehistoric cave paintings and patterns seen under the influence of hallucinogenic materials, during a migraine, or upon a period of sensory deprivation. This neurological imagery is called "entoptic phenomena". J.D. Lewis-Williams also wrote a thought-provoking book on this subject entitled, The Mind in the Cave: Consciousness and the Origins of Art. The artwork of our ancestors often shows the inner workings of the human mind itself rather than individual consciousness or creative thought, and only recently have we been able to prove these connections through science.
Another example of science exposing the marvel of the human brain can be found in a recent study completed by David Dunson from Duke University and Daniele Durante from the University of Padova (article about the research is linked below). In the study titled "Bayesian Inference and Testing of Group Differences in Brain Networks," the researchers analyzed connections in white matter within the brains of college-age student volunteers. Through a number of tests, each volunteer was given a score for overall creativity. As well, their white matter connections were analyzed through a special MRI method called diffusion tensor imaging, which follows the paths of axons in the brain by following the motion of water along each axon. The researchers then use computer technology to map out the MRI scans in three dimensions. They found that students who scored higher in creativity had more connections between the two hemispheres of the brain. These findings further disprove the left-brain/right-brain theory, which has been discredited in many other studies.
When I changed my career path from Psychology to Fine Art, I questioned whether I would miss the intense devotion to understanding the human mind. What I found was that I am able to continue this passionate exploration every day through my own artwork and through the world of fine arts at large; for that, my brain is very thankful.