Summary: Researchers report Alzheimer’s can be detected before diagnosis by looking at, and applying mathematical analysis, to their painting styles.
Source: University of Liverpool.
A new University of Liverpool study published today in Neuropsychology shows that it may be possible to detect neurodegenerative disorders in artists before they are diagnosed.
Psychologist Dr Alex Forsythe from the University’s School of Psychology and her team, working with Dr Tamsin Williams of Tees, Esk, and Wear Valleys NHS Trust, Vale of York and Maynooth University, Ireland, examined 2092 paintings from the careers of seven famous artists who experienced both normal ageing and neurodegenerative disorders.
Of the seven, two had suffered from Parkinson’s disease (Salvador Dali and Norval Morrisseau), two had suffered from Alzheimer’s disease (James Brooks and Willem De Kooning) and three had no recorded neurodegenerative disorders (Marc Chagall, Pablo Picasso and Claude Monet).
The brushstrokes of each of the paintings were analysed using a method of applying non-traditional mathematics to patterns known as ‘Fractal’ analyses to identify complex geometric patterns.
Fractals are mathematical characterisations of self-repeating patterns often described as the ‘fingerprints of nature’. They can be found in natural phenomena such as clouds, snowflakes, trees, rivers, and mountains. This method has also been used to determine the authenticity of major works of art.
Although painters work within a different style or genre, the fractal dimension in which they operate should remain comparable.
Patterns of change
The results were examined to see if the variations in an artist’s unique ‘fractals’ in their work over their career were due to them just increasing in age or because of ongoing cognitive deterioration.
The study showed clear patterns of change in the fractal dimension of the paintings differentiated artists who suffered neurological deterioration from those aging normally.
Dr Alex Forsythe, said: “Art has long been embraced by psychologists an effective method of improving the quality of life for those persons living with cognitive disorders.
“We have built on this tradition by unpicking artists ‘handwriting’ through the analysis of their individual connection with the brush and paint. This process offers the potential for the detection of emerging neurological problems.
“We hope that our innovation may open up new research directions that will help to diagnose neurological disease in the early stages”
Source: Simon Wood – University of Liverpool
Image Source: NeuroscienceNews.com image is in the public domain.
Original Research: Abstract for “What paint can tell us: A fractal analysis of neurological changes in seven artists” by Alex Forsythe, Tamsin Williams, and Ronan G. Reilly in Neuropsychology. Published online December 2016 doi:10.1037/neu0000303
What paint can tell us: A fractal analysis of neurological changes in seven artists
Objective: The notion that artistic capability increases with dementia is both novel and largely unsupported by available literature. Recent research has suggested an emergence of artistic capabilities to be a by-product of involuntary behaviour seen with dementia, as opposed to a progression in original thinking (de Souza, et al., 2010). A far more complementary explanation comes from Hannemann (2006), who suggests that art offers an outlet for dementia patients to refine and sharpen their cognitive abilities. As dementia severely impedes linguistic skills, non-verbal therapeutic methods such as painting can permit dementia patients to express themselves in a way not possible verbally. Fractal analysis has been used to determine the authenticity of major works of art. Taylor et al., (1999) found that through a fractal analysis of Jackson Pollock’s paintings it was possible to distinguish authentic works from a large collection of fakes, demonstrating that when artists paint they instill within their work their own pattern of unique fractal behaviour. Can age-indexed variations in the fractal dimension of the works of artists anticipate specific cognitive deteriorations? Method: To answer this question we analysed age-related variations in the fractal dimension of a large corpus of digital images (n = 2092) of work created by seven notable artists who experienced both normal ageing and neurodegenerative disorders.
Results: The results of our analysis showed that patterns of change in the fractal dimension of the paintings differentiated artists who suffered neurological deterioration from those of normal aging controls.
Conclusions: These findings are of importance for two reasons. Our work adds to studies that demonstrate that fractal analysis has the potential to determine the provenance of paintings. Secondly, our work suggests that may be possible to identify a-typical changes in the structure of an artist’s work; changes that may be early indicators of the onset of neurological deterioration.
“What paint can tell us: A fractal analysis of neurological changes in seven artists” by Alex Forsythe, Tamsin Williams, and Ronan G. Reilly in Neuropsychology. Published online December 2016 doi:10.1037/neu0000303