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Brushstrokes reveal health secrets of our most famous artists


VIDEO: Brushstrokes reveal health secrets of our most famous artists

Researchers have found distinct changes in the paintings of artists, years before they were formally diagnosed with dementia. Tap the play button to watch Gabriella Rogers's report. For the latest news from 9NEWS Sydney, visit our New South Wales live feed. Send your photos videos and stories to 9NEWS Email: [email protected] Large Files: Read the full story

Summer[Deleted User]


  • I can't understand these people...:)
  • That's interesting! Thanks Denis.
  • edited December 2016
    Interesting. Wish they'd have shown specifics on the "distinct changes". Also, so many types of dementia. Wonder if those observed in the artists' works could have been caused by the materials they used.

  • SummerSummer -
    edited December 2016
    I wouldn't worry about poor eyesight or dementia being reflected in one's paintings as it could be what some artist's are looking for--to start a new movement in the arts. ;)   That may be how it happened with Picasso.  You think?   :p  
  • NanaBean

    There is some more specifics on this BBC coverage of the topic;


  • NanaBean said:
    Wonder if those observed in the artists' works could have been caused by the materials they used.

    I think that you are right about art materials causing some of the symptoms of dementia.  I'm reminded of what happened to van Gogh.  He often painted in small rooms without ventilation.  It eventually took it's toll on his mental health and put him in a state of mind that resulted in strange behavior socially.  Most people know the story about how he lost his ear by his own hand.  I think the turpentine medium clearly had an impact on his state of mind and the reason why he was institutionalized.  But on the other hand, if he hadn't been care for in this way, free from having to earn a living, he would never have had the freedom of body and mind to go out into the countryside almost every day in his later years to paint all those wonderful paintings.  Great art has sometimes been produced under these circumstances.   Summer 
  • dencaldencal -
    edited December 2016
    Summer and NanaBean

    Mental illness is experienced by 25 to 33% of the population at some point in their life.
    Dementia afflicts 5 to 7% of persons 60+.

    With these numbers I think we are looking at genetic predisposition and/or broad scale environmental factors.

    I'm sure Bob Ross accumulated turpentine in his liver to the point that multiple myeloma took him out at a youngish age. That however, is an extreme case.

    What they are saying in this study is that a comparative fractal analysis of the art that shows simplification over time is a potential indicator of a mental condition. Not that art materials is a causative factor in mental illness.


  • edited December 2016
    That's how I understood it @dencal ("...shows simplification over time is a potential indicator of a mental condition"). I was more wondering 'out loud' about historic materials, especially heavy metals and yes, solvents. I am interested in this... somewhat so I can tell my kids to look for it in my paintings as I age, lol.......

    I work in social research with elderly people and have begun to recognize early dementia pretty quickly. My grandmother died from Alzheimer's, I see mid-stage symptoms appearing in my mother. My dad is struggling through with non-Alzheimer's dementia, surely self-inflicted....

    Thanks for posting the bbc link for me Denis. Interesting stats too.

  • @dencal .. thanks for posting. @NanaBean , my heart goes out to you. Desmentía and Alzheimer's is tough to deal with. ...My wife and I watched a movie just yesterday called "Of Mind and Music".I thought it was well done.
  • ...the movie was concerning Alzheimer's by the way. (Tried to edit my post to clarify, no longer an option?)
  • dencaldencal -
    edited January 2017

    On the other side of the same coin ... There is some interesting work in Canberra, Australia. Using art and gallery tours to improve the life of dementia sufferers.

    Take a look at this video on YouTube:

    Here is a nice overview of how the project is rolling out nationally and overseas


    someSummer[Deleted User]
  • edited January 2017
    some said:
    .... (Tried to edit my post to clarify, no longer an option?)
    @some you probably know how.... so this may be another issue, but I'll post it anyway for others who do not know how to edit their post. If you hover over your post (seems to work from anywhere on the post - I had always put the curser where the little 'gear' icon hides but just tried from other areas and it appeared).

    Anyway... if you move your curser anywhere on your post that you want to edit, a little black 'gear' appears directly across from your user name, on the right post margin. If you hover the curser over that, the word "Options" appears. Click on the gear icon and the word "Edit" appears. Move the curser on the word "Edit", click, and your post becomes editable... edit away - then either cancel or save comment with the edit.

    Just edited this post, lol......

    And now..... back to Denis's thread! ;)

  • somesome -
    edited January 2017
    @NanaBean on my PC, but not on my Ipad Pro
  • Folks
    Another piece of the jigsaw

    Top Stories: Living near heavy traffic 'may raise risk of dementia'

    People who live near busy roads laden with heavy traffic face a higher risk of developing dementia than those living further away, according to researchers in Canada.

    Read the full story


  • edited January 2017
    I found the report, both the Australian and BBC ones, confusing. But then, the media almost never reports science well. What it says here is that the researchers looked at many painting by 7 different artists. They knew the eventual prognosis of these artists (whether they developed Parkinson's etc). They were able to find changes by fractal analysis in the brush strokes of these artists.

    In itself, that means nothing to me. The impression given is that they discovered these changes by looking at these artists and knowing what happened to them at the end, but that does not let you conclude what the reports are saying it does. Such changes may be nothing to do with the mental disease they later develop. What it does is allow them to form a hypothesis. Then they would have to go to other artists works and use their diagnostic algorithm to see whether it correctly predicts what happens with other artists in a statistically significant way, and preferably do this blinded (ie they would not know what happened to the artist when doing the analysis). Now, maybe they did that, looking at people producing art in care homes that had produced paintings much earlier in life to come up with their diagnostic test, and then applied that test to the 7 famous ones, but the report does not mention this at all. 

    So what I get at the moment is 'interesting hypothesis' and nothing more.

    Also, they say 'several thousand paintings by seven artists'. If seven artists can produce several thousand paintings then these must be Modernists, which is a mental illness all in itself ;^)
  • You are perfectly right @AlunapR ;     A study like this can not produce more than ideas for a futur hypothesis. Here is the link to the original abstract, published in a journal that usualy reviews their publications... The group tested their fractal analysis on the brushstrokes (n=2092) with correlations, so they are careful with causality (not so the media). They speak about their method and the brushstrokes in their findings, not about the artists...  So let's hope for further 'serious' studys with decent and randomized sample sizes... :-) .... 

  • AlunapR

    Hey! 'Modernist' is a big brush, careful how you wave it around.

    Yes, I agree an interesting hypothesis, but even these are hard to find in the foggy morass of hunches, design and data.

    Way back a year or two I posted another fractal analysis study claiming in the near future to be able to settle the attribution of works of art on the basis of brushstroke characteristics.  I marvel at the cures for cancer we hear about every other week and the miracles stem cells perform on chronic and terminal disease. So it is nice to hear about art and science getting it together, so much so, I am willing to suspend my weary skepticism.


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