Exploring the intricate “landscapes” of neuroanatomy has inspired a number of scientists to create visual art.
Heather Bimonte-Nelson, head of the Memory and Aging Laboratory at Arizona State University, creates paintings that add a new dimension to her research.
She notes, “Science is really about convincing people that your hypothesis or theory could be the truth in nature.
“And if you’re not a good storyteller, people will never believe it. You could have the best theory ever, but if you can’t communicate it effectively so others understand it, it doesn’t count.”
As described in an article about her work, this painting of hers, titled “GABA,” functions as “a portrait of her daughters’ seizures, and the quest to control them.
“Even tones of light green and cerulean blue streak down the canvas, but are disrupted on one side in a dramatic blood-red band.
“The colors represent neurotransmitters in the brain. The blues and greens are the inhibitory gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA, and the red is glutamate, an excitatory neurotransmitter.”
“GABA is very soothing, a great inhibitor,” explains Bimonte-Nelson. “Without GABA, you’d be running around with no control. With a seizure, there’s a big imbalance between these inhibitory and excitatory systems in the brain.”
“While “GABA” could be considered as more of a personal piece, Bimonte-Nelson’s inspiration to paint first came in the form of writer’s block.”
“I was writing a grant and I had a vision of a painting in my head. I couldn’t really formulate the words for it, but I saw the picture.”
From article: Seeing science with an artist’s eye, by Pete Zrioka, Research Matters, Arizona State University.
The Beautiful Brain site includes a number of other scientists who create visual art, for example Greg Dunn – a visual artist with a PhD in neuroscience from the University of Pennsylvania.
He comments in an interview on the site, “I’ve always been interested in psychology and philosophy, and I suppose that was where my early interests lay. I’ve always been a pretty introverted person, so I spend a lot of time in my thoughts. Suffice to say, I am often puzzled by what’s going on in there!
“As my scientific interests developed, I realized that really any biological system can be fascinating. However, what sets the brain apart is that it is the apparatus through which we experience the world. Every single human activity has a neurological story to it. If you’re a scientist because you want to understand yourself, as I am, then it doesn’t make sense to look any place else.”
He comments, “Neural forms and Asian painting styles collide in a completely natural way, and I am so fortunate that I found this out for myself because it has led to a very satisfying career as an artist/scientist.”
From the gallery section on the Beautiful Brain site – which includes a link to his site, plus work by other artists.
Three related books that might inspire your own creativity:
Art and Science by Eliane Strosberg.
Portraits of the Mind: Visualizing the Brain from Antiquity to the 21st Century by Carl Schoonover.
Super Vision: A New View of Nature by Ivan Amato.
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Last reviewed: 5 Mar 2012