A Cognitive and Behavioral Neurological Approach to Aesthetics
Philosophers have hypothesized that one of the defining characteristics of being human is the production and appreciation of art. Beginning in the early 20th century, observations following isolated strokes or brain surgery supported theories that artistic behaviors were mediated by complex interactions between the frontal and parietal lobes. While these findings were instrumental in establishing the foundations of functional neuroanatomy, the association between artistic behavior and brain circuitry remained crude at best. With advances in molecular biology, improved clinical measures, and sophisticated neuroimaging techniques, the study of neurodegenerative disease has become a powerful method for investigating behavior. Already, the study of neurodegenerative disease has yielded significant insights into the process of artistic behavior. In this chapter we present an overview of visuospatial functional anatomy, how neurodegenerative disease affects artistic sensibility, and detail the paradoxical functional facilitation of artistic ability in patients diagnosed with frontotemporal dementia. Specifically, the behaviors we document developed in the setting of profound and isolated speech dysfunction, a condition known as primary progressive aphasia. Based on the specific aphasia subtype - semantic dementia versus progressive nonfluent aphasia - the quality of these patient’s artistic interest appeared to differ. Taken together, we believe that patients suffering from the language variants of frontotemporal lobar degeneration are uniquely positioned to provide the greatest insights yet into aesthetic choice and artistic creation.
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