[ISEA96] Paper: John Law – Drawing on the Brain Project


Short Paper


Some results from and reflections on a PET study into art-student volunteers performing  drawing tasks, presented in the form of a talk illustrated with an interactrve visual display.

Keywords: Brain. Imaging, Perception, Drawing, Interactive, Positron Emission Tomography (PET)


I would like to present some results and reflections on an art-science collaboration which I think fits quite well with the symposium theme “Education as a Bridge between Art & Science”. This collaboration took the form of a Positron Emission Tomography (PET) study of six right-handed male artstudent volunteers engaged in simple drawing tasks.
I helped Professor Chris Frith. of the Institute of Neurology, London University, a little in the design of the experiment, procured the volunteers, and have produced a visual account of the events In the form of a director movie, designed to complement the scientific papers. The experiment was carried out by Dr Gabriella Bottini at the Cyclotron Unit of Hammersmith
Hospital in London.


“We wanted to explore the neural systems involved in planning & performingcomplex movements in space We measured regional cerebral blood flow as an index of synaptic activity during the performance of three different tasks… In one condition subjects “drew” the shape of a figure in different locations, in the second they ‘drew’ different figures in the same location while in the third control task they traced the figures on a screen. …Our results suggest that two distinct anatomical systems subserve a network for the representation of spacial coordinates and a network for the representation of objects.”

A simple interactive presentation of the experiment has been made in Hypercard with text, 24 bit images and simple animation. A more sophisticated version with better animations is ‘under construction’ in Director & will be ready for September 1996. Quote from the Hypercard stack, Prof. Chris Frith: “We have identified one area concerned with generating forms (left middle temporal lobe) and a different area concerned with generating position in space (bilateral parietal lobe). The areas we have identified are essentially the same as those previously shown to be associated with the perception of form and position in space when no movements are made and the volunteer simply looks at objects. This intimate association between perception and production has interesting implications for brain function in general and conceivably might have relevance for the teaching of drawing skills.”

  • John Law, Reader, School of Art & Design, Bath College of Higher Education, Bath, UK

Full text p. 76-77