Searching for the Location of Creativity

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Biology 202
2002 First Paper
On Serendip

Searching for the Location of Creativity

Melissa Hoban

What causes an artist to feel so passionate about his work? What leads the artist in his choice of an outlet for his creativity? What is it that inspires the artist? Is it possible that all of this is formed completely in the artists mind? Is it the case that the "gift" of creativity and genius is given to some individuals and not others, or is the gift of creativity merely the plague of a mental disorder? Do these artists even have anything in common?

Whitman tends to believe that someone does have something in common with him. This is best demonstrated through his poem "Among the Multitude."

Among the men and women the multitude,
I perceive one picking me out by secret and divine
Acknowledging none else, not parent, wife, husband, brother, child,
Any nearer than I am,
Some are baffled, but that one is not Ė that one knows me.

Ah lover and perfect equal ,
I meant that you should discover me so by faint indirections,
And I when I meet you mean to discover you by the like in you.

Here Whitman demonstrates a similarity between people because of some common ground. Although this poem is meant to express a hidden love between a man and a woman, the idea of a common ground work between people can be positioned between artists. In this work Whitman is saying that people with this tie between them know that it is there and can recognize it in an instant. Great artists with a creative nature share a passion for their art as well as a unique way of expressing it. Where does this passion and ability for unique expression come from?

There seems to be a myth encompassing the artists with "madness." Could it be that this genius is only the result of a mental disorder? Diana Applegate seems to have explored this in her paper "Toward a Neurobiology of Creativity? Making Connections Between Art, Manic-Depressive Illness, and the Frontotemporal Dementia." She uses Dr. Kay Redfield Jamisonís book, Touched With Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament, as a main resource. Her final conclusion from this is that, "Jamison's book does not provide us with any answers, but it raises several new and interesting questions. If the behavioral characteristics of the creative process are similar to those of a genetic, neurobiologically-related disorder, then it is conceivable that creativity arises from the interaction of certain neurons in the brain." Earlier in her paper she also explicitly goes through the process that Jamison uses to illustrate that creativity is very possibly a result of manic depression. Jamisonís support being that many artists have a history of having manic depression. Also that manic depression causes an increased sensitivity to emotion and allows for easier expression of these emotions through art during succeeding highs and lows.

Another approach to the neurobiological idea of creativity is introduced by Semir Zeki in his article "Artistic Creativity and the Brain." In this artile Zeki says that he hopes that neuroscience will "study the neural basis of artistic creativity and achievement, starting with the elementary perceptual process." By the perceptual process he is restating the idea that artists precieve life and itís material things differently than most individuals. He feels that as John Constable says "The whole beauty and grandeur of Art consists ... in being able to get above all singular forms, local customs, particularities of every kind.... [The painter] makes out an abstract idea ... more perfect than any one original." Zeki says that this is because an artist has a special gift for the attention to detail where generally in our brains this is disregarded because it is not needed. Zeki, also makes no final conclusions only that he has an opinion on the matter.

Scientists have not yet found where creativity is located in the brain. So therefore there is no definite answer as to what causes the differences in artistic variation. However there are many different ideas on this subject. Some scientists believe that it has to do with the "right and left brains", whereas others feel that it is caused from a mental disorder. These ideas all have flaws and none give an accurate scientifically supported theory. Therefore I am still left with my initial question. Where does creativity come from and what causes variations in this creativity, which causes artists to express their work so uniquely.

I am still left to believe that the only way in which to find an answer to these questions is through Neurobiology. My belief stems from at this point in our exploration of brain and behavior it is fair to say that our brain has an effect on our bodily movement and stimulation through receptors. This idea can best be described through the I-function box, which demonstrates the input and output through the brain. Through this we are shown that through different inputs into the brain we are able to form different outputs. Therefore through a different experience as someone else we are able to form individual personalities. These different personalities cause us to express ourselves differently from any other individual because we have not had the same life experiences as they have had.

So, an artist is as I see it a unique variation of the common man. A common man, is this an artist? I have no direct conclusions only ideas from myself and others because of the nature of this topic. When no scientists have come up with sound theories and scientific evidence to support them, we are left with only one choice. The choice is to come up with our own ideas and thoughts on the topic.


1) "Toward a Neurobiology of Creativity? Making Connections Between Art, Manic-Depressive Illness, and Frontotemporal Dementia", by:Diana C. Applegate

2) "Creativity and Psychopathology", by Rachel Friedman, on the Harvard Brain's Website

4) SCIENCE magazine archives "Artistic Creativity and the Brain" Semir Zeki.


6) Metacognitive Musings, by: John Dalton

7) Untitled, by: Elaine de Castro

8) Synesthesia: Phenomenology And Neuropsychology - A Review of Current Knowledge by Richard E. Cytowic

9) Precis of "THE CREATIVE MIND: MYTHS AND MECHANISMS", What is creativity? - by Margaret A. Boden, School of Cognitive and Computing Sciences, University of Sussex, England

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