Artsy, Demented, or Both?

Artsy, demented, or both? It’s a question humans have asked of art and its creators since the beginning of time. While art stands among one of man’s highest achievements, some of the most historically fabulous pieces also happen to have been created by some of the human race’s most historically “demented” characters.

Does brain trauma, disease, or deficiency influence art? Is it true that those with dementia produce visual art that differs from that produced by others—or by themselves before dementia symptoms appeared?

A recent review article published in the International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry provides initial evidence that brain “disease” such as dementia may influence visual artistic form. The studies in the review examined the visual art of 14 artists with dementia (five with Alzheimer’s Disease, seven with fronto-temporal dementia, and two with dementia with Lewy bodies).

Results from several studies suggest that specifically, artists with progressing Alzheimer’s Disease had prominent differences in spatial aspects of their visual pieces over time compared with artists without the brain disease. Additionally, individuals with Alzheimer’s had noticeable difference in color and contrast of their artistic pieces than their previous, pre-disease work. The art of those artists with fronto-temporal dementia revealed a noticeable shift toward a more realistic representation of the elements in their artwork, while those with dementia with Lewy bodies showed a shift toward more simplicity in their work, along with more bizarre content. In fact, the review seems to hint that each type of dementia has its own unique artistic signature.

The upside is that the artwork produced by the individuals—even the more bizarre work of those with dementia with Lewy bodies—was still viable artwork, fascinating and engaging. Thus, the answer to our title question regarding artsy or demented: Both.


Gretton C, and ffytche D. Art and the brain: a view from dementia. International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry (2014); 29: 111–126.


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