Creative Writing and the Brain

brain imaging activity NIH 2
These pictures show magnetic imaging impressions of brain activity. These reflect responses to specific visual stimuli. On the left, the subject was looking at faces. On the right the subject was looking at houses. The MRI frames were provided by the National Institutes of Health.

Just about everyone agrees that writing is an essential skill.  Even the most frugal educators include at least some writing instruction in their curriculum.  What modern science is teaching us is that writing is not only a skill; it is also important in brain development.

Neurologists, with the aid of imaging technology, have been able to pinpoint the areas of the brain that are activated during specific creative activity. This applies not only to writing, but also to music, drawing and even “brainstorming”, which is preparatory to creative work.

During  creative writing activity, the right and left hemispheres of the brain interact with each other.  Although creativity is considered to be  ‘right brain’ centered, it seems that to complete the creative act, the left brain has to kick in.  This phenomenon was observed not only during the writing phase, but also during the period preparatory to writing, when ‘brainstorming’ takes place.  Visualizing, imagining material to be written, precipitates  coordination of different parts of the brain.

A study from the University of Greifswald, Germany looked at brain function in experienced writers.  The individuals in this group had highly developed writing skills.  The brain images of the writers showed increased prefrontal and basal ganglia activation. Also noted in the images was an increased development in the right cuneus, which is involved in reading processes.

Another  study at the University of  Greifswald looked at the creative writing processes during various stages of the work.   The authors of the study noted changes  in brain activity as the work progressed.   In the planning, or brainstorming phase, “cognitive, linguistic, and creative brain functions mainly represented in a parieto-frontal-temporal network” were activated.  During the actual writing phase,  “motor and visual brain areas for handwriting and additionally, cognitive and linguistic areas” were activated.   The authors of the second Greifswald study were careful to distinguish between groups that engaged in creative writing  and those that merely copied material.  The verbal association and integration patterns evident in the creative writing group were not evident in the brain images of the copiers.

Traditionally, creative writing has been part of many school programs because basic writing skills are important and creative writing is considered to be a nice extra curricular activity.  Perhaps it is time to reexamine the importance placed on writing and other creative activities.  Science seems to show that brain development is enhanced by exposure to creative exercise, whether that exercise is in writing, music or art.  Each of these areas seems to activate different parts of the brain.   Educators–and that certainly includes parents–should consider the evidence and think about considering creative activity to be as essential as the established pillars of education: Reading, Writing and Arithmetic.

the three rs John_Chippendall_Montesquieu_Bellew
Master of one of the three Rs, John Chippendall Montesquieu Bellew. Here Mr. Bellew is giving a public reading. He enjoyed a reputation for being a great orator. Image derived from a cartoon, 1873. Copyright expired.

Tagore Gallery and Blog: Featuring Original Work by Tagore and Information About His Esthetic and Life

Pictures of Rabindranath Tagore, his family and matters related to his life will be added to this page gradually.  These pictures are offered for the reader’s enjoyment.  It is hoped that more people in the West will become familiar with the work of this writer, artist, philosopher.

Tagore's_family public domain tag
Rabindranath Tagore posed with his son, his two daughters and his daughter-in-law for this picture in 1909. From the book, Rabindranath Tagore
Tagore with Astronomer Karel Hujer 1935 public domain
Here Tagore is pictured with the astronomer Karel Hujer. Hujer was a Czech who settled in the US after fleeing from the Nazis in the 1930s. An avowed pacifist, Hujer was an admirer of Gandhi and Tagore. In 1949, after both Gandhi and Tagore were deceased, he organized the World Pacifist Meetings in India. The photo was taken in 1935, by an unknown author; it is in the public domain.
Rabindranath_Tagore_Man_and_Woman3
Tagore’s painting, entitled Man and Woman. Tagore started painting after the age of 60. His brief career as a painter is discussed in the book, Rabindranath Tagore.
Einstein_and_Tagore_Berlin_14_July_1930 public domain tag
Tagore and Albert Einstein posed for this picture when they were in Berlin, 1930. From the book, Rabindranath Tagore
Santiniketan tagore gandhi 1940
This picture of Tagore and Gandhi was taken in 1940 at Santiniketan, India. Santiniketan was the site of a university Tagore had established years before. Tagore died a year after this picture was taken; Gandhi was assassinated in 1948
Rabindranath Tagore Untitled Dancing Girl scaled
Tagore once said of his career as a painter that he was “secretly drawn” to work that came to him “least easily”. Perhaps one of his challenges was the fact that he did not see colors the way most people do. Tagore had difficulty distinguishing reds from greens. Some observers theorize that this color confusion may have explained some of the artist’s dramatic color schemes. However, with a man as complex as Rabindranath Tagore, this explanation likely oversimplifies the creative process. This picture is labeled “Untitled” and is described as being a portrait of a dancing girl. The date of the painting is unknown; it was uploaded from Wikimedia Commons and is in the public domain.
Tagore On Education
Rabindranath_Tagore_with_Mahatma_Gandhi_and_Kasturba_Gandhi_in_Shantiniketan

Rabindranath Tagore was a philosopher, artist, poet, playwright, musician and social reformer.  In 1913, he became the first non-European to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.  Despite this distinction, Tagore never earned a formal academic degree.  When referring to his own education, Tagore spoke about  ‘freedom’,  not ‘discipline’.  He described his childhood home, which inspired his point of view,  as one in which “freedom in the power of our language, freedom of imagination in our  literature.. ” prevailed.  Rote learning and routinized instruction were stifling and counterproductive, in his view.

Tagore believed that education was an organic process in which the individual responded to the environment. Much in his philosophy of education resembled that of another Nobel Laureate, Marie Curie.  Both Nobel Prize winners placed strong emphasis on nature.  Both insisted on the importance of physical exercise.  And both believed that exposure to brilliant minds and brilliant work would elevate, not frustrate, a child. Both were certain that bombarding a child with structured lessons was more likely to kill an appetite for learning than to stimulate it. They believed that acquiring knowledge should be as effortless as acquiring language is for a toddler.

While Rabindranath Tagore and Marie Curie  believed that children should live in a harmonious relationship with nature, Tagore carried the theme of harmony further. He believed it was a function of education to foster harmony between people. He wanted children to be taught arts, especially music, because he thought that would enable them to develop sympathy for others. He thought that education should emphasize the progress of nations and not focus on wars and territorial conquests.

Rabindranath Tagore did not simply aspire to educational ideals: he gave them life. In 1901 he founded a school, Patha Bhavana, which embodied his principles. After he won the Nobel Prize, he invested in his school and expanded it into a university. That campus is now the site of one of the most prestigious universities in India, Visva-Bharati.

Were Rabindranath Tagore’s ideas about education misguided? Many people who work in education today apparently believe so. Increased emphasis on standardized learning and objective testing seems to be proof of that. Schools today are  laboratories in which competing theories of education are tested. As the experiment with today’s children proceeds, so will the dialogue about their future continue.

Artistic_mud_house_at_shantiniketan
For more on Rabindranath Tagore visit our page: Rabindranath Tagore
 

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Quotes:

It is still difficult for me to realize that I have no absolute claim to keep up a close relationship with things, merely because I have gathered them together“. From: My Reminiscences, 1917

He (my father) also knew that truth, if strayed from, can be found again, but a forced or blind acceptance of it from the outside effectually bars the way in”. From: My Reminiscences, 1917

“The west seems to take a pride in thinking that it is subduing nature; as if we are living in a hostile world where we have to wrest everything we want from an unwilling and alien arrangement of things.” From : Sadhana : The Realization of Life, 1916