We have learned quite a bit about the brain and how it functions over the last decade. New understandings are emerging all the time. Neurologists have been noting that many people with cognitive challenges such as Alzheimer’s and differing forms of dementia have acquired an enhanced life through learning an art form. Depending on the area of the brain affected, differing artistic skills can develop. Damage to the left brain opens up the right side of the brain, which is good at copying images. People with Frontal Temporal Dementia (FTD) have shown to acquire new musical or visual abilities. FTD can create an obsession with visual imagery, which, in turn, can bring the person to express themselves through art. Cognitive issues can lead to newly found skills. Despite having never done art before, those that are cognitively challenged and are exposed to creating art, have developed new artistic skills.
The benefits from allowing creative expression are many. Cognitive enhancing activities such as art have shown to create new connections in the brain. In allowing the cognitively challenged to create, there is a sense of self worth and dignity, it can create a new validation and a life enhancement. Those with cognitive issues find that through art there is a new, positive self expressive aspect and an increase in self esteem. Those with Semantic Dementia (having a loss of words for an object or loss of meaning for a word) can be rewarded by gaining a voice through their artistic expression.
Those that are challenged tend to paint what they “see” in their mind’s eye. (Try painting what you “see” when listening to a particular piece of music.) A common activity is painting images from long term memories, which can be very rewarding for the artist. Through art, there comes a means of expressive self and allows a person to focus on their experiences and their perception of the world, drawing on imagination and feelings.
The Dutch artist, Willem DeKooning, suffered from dementia in his later years. His art changed drastically in his later life, yet he still created over 300 pieces. Interestingly enough, many collectors were drawn to his later works and considered them more desirable than his earlier pieces.