The brain could have a center for subdivision of artistic autonomy and social code, according to deafness researchers Charles J. Limb and Allen R. Braun in an article on Plos ONE. Sounds explosive, of course, which research on these complex issues always does when it is simplified in catchy terms. The writers argue that there was extensive de-activation in the frontal cortex as well as in those areas of the brain that are thought to regulate emotions when they fMRI:ed Jazz pianists while improvising. Limb and Braun write that the frontal areas that were de-activated in their study are believed to be important for the conscious monitoring, evaluation and correction of behaviour. One of the de-activated prefrontal regions may be involved in assessing whether behavior conform to social demands, exerting inhibitory control over inappropriate or maladaptive performance. Basically they are assessing that, on a neural level, social demands, pressure and various inherent human codes could stagger the performance of the artist, in this case a improvising pianist. But they are stating it while watching the Jazz improvisations, so this is not self-induced, conscious de-activations but strictly neural (neurodarwinian) ones.
It is an interesting piece of research and combined with cultural sociology, philosophy and behavioral economics I think we could get even closer to finding out if and how Politics with a big P (or the ”disruption of the distribution of the sensible” – that which is sensed, thought and felt in the world) shapes and moulds artistic works in a way more subtle than propaganda, cultural policy, economical fluctuations and academic training could formulate.
Semir Zeki, professor of neurobiology and neuroaesthetics at University College London, blogs about this article stating: ”It is only when an artist is dis-inhibited that he or she can reach the heights of artistic achievement.”, recalling quotes by Proust and others in a far to simplifying manner. He definitely misses the complex form of today´s aesthetic processes as well as slightly overestimating the significance of only one study on Jazz pianists. A simple counterexample is Swede Måns Wrange, as an example, whose Good Rumour Project has been ongoing in different guises for five years, with avatars in exhibitions, seminars, publications and of course the very complexity of the piece itself which involves the interaction of possible millions of people. When and how you should scan Wrange for potential de-activations in the frontal cortex, I leave to another blog post.
Jazz pianists is the first of step toward an understanding of the creative brain, what we need is researcher and artists alike working in a cross section in order to really grasp complexities in the brain. So, keep up the good work fMRI:ers!
Bytheway: Oliver Sacks has some interesting writings in the neuromusic area as well, check it!