Sunday, March 25, 2012
the neurobiology of my art
It happened again this morning, that creative burst that comes when one least expects it. That's twice this week that my morning bath has brought me delightful insights, approaches, ways of seeing that seem to result in new artistic enterprises.
According to neuroscientist Jonah Lehrer, this experience is entirely predictable -- creativity comes usually when we are not engaging the prefrontal cortex (an area behind the forehead). And that area is actively engaged when we are focusing on a task.
Creativity is more likely to arise when we produce the alpha waves that signal relaxation...daydreaming and the like, when we stop looking for a solution, and then come upon it unexpectedly, unintentionally.
Creativity results, Lehrer says in his new bestseller Imagine, when areas of the brain that do not normally interact communicate freely during this daydreaming state. "The brain blends together concepts that are normally filed away in different areas. The result is to notice new connections, to see the overlaps that we normally overlook." (46) [Links to NPR interviews with Jonah Lehrer are at the end of this post.]
The image above shows one of my bath-burst-new-connections --I had wanted to create a large textile piece that incorporated fused glass. Nothing came when I focused on the problem. But then, when I was relaxed, my mind linked sketch to fused glass set-up to photography to textile, all new connections/overlaps that had eluded me during deliberative pondering:
Another overlap came, you-know-when, that led me to be able to imagine the curves in the architecture of Disney Hall as resembling the curves in a woman's body:
Printed and stitched:
Recent forays into my alpha wave states have produced a series of works that explore a dialog between my fused glass and textile endeavors.
This neurobiology stuff is familiar to me, as I delved into it in graduate work I undertook after leaving the practice of law. As a doctoral student at UCLA, I had a year-long fellowship at a UCLA hospital. An interdisciplinary program in applied linguistics allowed me to study the way the brain works to create language, and in that study I got to dissect the body parts that produce language, including the brain.
Our anatomy and physiology instructor, an esteemed professor in the medical school, sported a Grateful Dead patch on his lab coat. His demeanor was serious but his wit was wry as we learned of the brain's areas that Lehrer says do not normally communicate, except when the subject is daydreaming. The brain is a miraculous processor.
Lehrer's book has all sorts of insights into how creativity is fostered, and this is just one of them. I am grateful to now know the neurobiology of my bath-born art-thoughts. Thank you, Mr. Lehrer.
Two of NPR's most-emailed stories this week feature Jonah Lehrer. The stories, with podcasts, can be found at these links: