Post-Stroke Neuroplasticity May Alter Artistic Skills Compensation

Vignesh Subramanian ’24

Figure 1: Neuroplasticity is the capacity of the brain to develop and reorganize synaptic connections with new experiences or following injury. 

A stroke, or cerebrovascular accident, is a medical emergency in which blood flow to the brain is interrupted or reduced. Strokes are the result of either an ischemic (arterial obstruction) or hemorrhagic (arterial rupture) event and are associated with the arrest of neuronal activity in the brain. However, various regions of the central nervous system (CNS) have demonstrated a capacity for recovering from post-stroke cerebral necrosis by regenerating and reorganizing synaptic connections, an ability known as neuroplasticity. CNS regions that exercise this ability are also among those associated with critical motor skills, visual acuity, and spatial awareness that define an individual’s sensory perception and artistic abilities. A study led by Griffith University researchers aimed to better characterize the relationship between post-stroke neuroplasticity and artistic skills compensation.
Researchers conducted a systematic review of fifteen famous artists who each survived a left or right cerebral stroke to assess differences between premorbid and ‘post-stroke’ artistic styles as well as compare clinical outcomes between the two hemispheres. In the ten patients who had right cerebral strokes, particular attention was paid towards evaluating the use of elementary bold colors, simplification of images, inability to reproduce chiaroscuro (treatment of light and shade), and left-side neglect. In the five patients who had left cerebral strokes, a loss of tri-dimensionality, perspective, rigidity, and repetitiveness were watched for, as these were previously thought to be perceptual attributes of each hemisphere. 

Researchers found that in nearly all examined cases, the artists demonstrated statistically significant recovery of artistic skills. Ten artists adopted new, more expressive designs, while the rest either demonstrated restitutio ad integrum (restoration of premorbid styles) or could not have an attributable style clearly established. Patients with right hemispheric stroke primarily suffered left-side hemineglect, paresis (muscular weakness), visual field omissions, and apraxia (difficulty with skilled movement). Patients with left hemispheric stroke were found to have suffered right-side hemiparesis and aphasia (inability to understand or express speech) as well as having to learn to work with a non-dominant hand. The majority of patients were also found to have developed ischemia (reduced blood flow) in the frontal, temporal-parietal, or occipital cerebral areas associated with the processing and integration of motor functions. These results suggest that in the context of the damage done by stroke-induced lesioning, post-stroke neuroplasticity in these artists’ brains was responsible not only for neurological recuperation but also the development, in some cases, of entirely new artistic sensibilities and styles.

Works Cited:

[1] E. Petcu, et al., Artistic Skills Recovery and Compensation in Visual Artists after Stroke. Frontiers in Neurology 7, 1–12 (2016). doi: 10.3389/fneur.2016.00076

[2] Image retrieved from: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Neuroplasticity.jpg

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