Artists often develop new creative techniques late in life, often at the same time as they begin suffering from dementia. Some scientists suspect that it is the dementia itself that fosters ways of expression that haven’t been tried by the artists before. At the University of Liverpool a team of researchers wanted to examine this connection further by performing fractal analysis of paintings of famous artists. Specifically, they were looking for evidence of cognitive decline within the brush strokes of art works completed before and after the onset of artists’ dementia.

The team analyzed the fractal dimension of paintings and compared earlier works of a number of artists with their later pieces. Roughly speaking, fractal dimensions represent different patterns of complexity as one looks at artworks at different scales. Typically artists maintain about the same fractal dimensions between their works, an indication of their individual styles.

What the Liverpool researchers discovered is that the four artists studied who had known cases of dementia ( Dali and Morrisseau with Alzheimer’s, and Brooks and De Kooning with Parkinson’s) had a marked change in the fractal dimensions of their works as their conditions set in. Three others (Chagall, Picasso, and Monet) who lived to old age seemingly without suffering from dementia maintained the fractal dimensions within their works.

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