“While artistic, literary, and musical creativity are perhaps the most fascinating of all human achievements, their basic brain counterparts remain poorly defined. It is likely that the brain participates as a whole in creativity, which can be defined as the ability to produce new and original works which stimulate interest or appeal esthetically.

Creativity is a general feature of all humans, and everyone is indeed ‘creative’ on numerous occasions during his or her life. On the other hand, only a very limited number of individuals achieve what can be called ‘extraordinary creativity’, and which refers in particular to an ability to deconstruct established executive habits and tastes leading to truly novel productions, be it in science, art or other domains.

When disease, especially brain disease, challenges the capabilities of one of these ‘extraordinarily creative’ individuals, the changes that consequently occur in their productions provide a unique opportunity to explore the mysteries of creativity, particularly in the artistic field. Sometimes creativity is lost through disease and sometimes it is modified and occasionally, though more rarely, it may be enhanced or augmented. … We … realized that … artists whose style and output changed following a stroke, meningitis, or other cerebral disorder demanded [comment], since their personal lives and creative output were enormously modified by their disease. … Mozart, Baudelaire, de Kooning, Proust, Heine, von Bülow, Reuterswärd, Corinth, Füssli, Fellini, Visconti and others are all striking examples of how extraordinary creativity can be challenged and modified or destroyed or restored within the individual drama of disease.

There are examples of de novo creativity following cerebral lesion, although we are not aware of any world-famous artist whose creativity first developed subsequent to brain damage. An alteration in the creativity of an artist can provide unique and fresh insights into the complex relationships between cerebral dysfunction and behavior. It may also be useful in better understanding the evolution of certain artists, particularly when the course of a disease corresponds with what is recognized as a new chapter in their work.”

(from Julien Bogousslavsky & Michael G. Henneric; Preface to Neurological Disorders in Famous Artists, Part 2)

DYSFUNCTION can be a congenital trait but is often a dis-ease of developmental  ADAPTATION.  In either circumstance, there is a difficulty or inability to COPE with a real or perceived challenge to meeting a real or perceived biological need relative to most other people in your culture.    

A first clue that an element of development, ecology, evolution, or physiology is more-or-less dysfunctional is when the organism presents symptoms that affect its ability to cope with challenges to its ability to meet biological NEEDS, an early expression of which is STRESS.   Stress is manifest in all organisms and when multicellular it can be detected at various levels, such as tissues and organ systems–but often most sensitively at tghe organismic level, expressed in cognition and behavior.

The problem of variation haunts medical science. In the 19th century, one of the founders of experimental medicine, the French physiologist Claude Bernard, claimed that individual variability was an obstacle to medical judgment. If we could show that the abnormal was a mere quantitative deviation from the normal, he wrote, we would possess the key to treating any given individual, no matter how he or she veered from the rest. After all, if the pathological is merely a deviation from the normal, then not only the aim but the very possibility of the therapeutic act becomes clear: return the sick individual, organ, cell or system back to a normal state. ” –Sholl’s essay, “Nobody is Normal


  • This topic was visited in an excellent blog entry by Maria Popova in 2018 that underscores the important view that dysfunction is often normal function gone awry. [see  A&O on “dysfunction”]  Popova wrote, “But just as depression can be seen as melancholy in the complex clinical extreme and bipolar disorder as moodiness in the complex clinical extreme, every pathological malady of the mind is a complex clinical extreme of a core human tendency that inheres in each of our minds in tamer degrees. By magnifying basic tendencies to such extraordinary extremes, clinical cases offer a singular lens on how the ordinary mind works — and that, of course, is the great gift of Oliver Sacks, who wrests from his particular patient case studies uncommon insight into the universals of human nature.”  (The Marginalian 2018/01/15

Now, Look in on the ways variations  in function are characterized without being negatively biased, such as neurotypical  or “neurodiverse.” 

In A&O, we often refer to the health costs or benefits of art-making and/or -appreciating (expressive and/or receptive art) to emphasize the biological connection.   Any human trait can be pathologized when developmental or physiological circumstances leads to one of their constituent elements being deficient or expressed in excess (visit A&O notes on the Delphic Maxim].  The everyday catch-idea about is when one’s behavior requires some sort of intervention to prevent an individual from becoming a danger to one’s self or others.   

WE would all likely agree that part of the human condition is more-or-less difficulty in identifying and expressing feelings.  In the extreme it is termed “alexithymia,” and some people manifesting these traits are “prone to developing so-called somatic symptoms (bodily complaints such as pain or fatigue) and the use of compulsive behaviours to regulate their feelings, such as binge eating and alcohol abuse.” (read “Dark feelings will haunt us until they are expressed in words,” by Tom Wooldridge (2020) in Psyche, 2020 14 May )

CONSIDER, A&O notes on “NORMAL” characterizing and pursuing the pros and cons, costs and benefits, of neural and behavioral diversity.    To underscore the modes of coping look in on



Thinking of the metaphor of being “cracked” when speaking of someone dysfunctional, there is a significant surge of  thinking that at least some of such people (“neuroatypical?”) have made a virtue of necessity because an epiphenomenon of the atypicality may be unusually useful.  “Rain Man” comes to mind.  (a popular1988 movie in which an autistic savant is exploited by his brother). 

The emerging disposition to regard neuro-atypical individuals (particularly with respect to autism) as “alternate” reveals attitudes and vocabularies about coping or remediation: Read “Disorder or difference? Autism researchers face off over field’s terminology.”

More positive regard for some “disorders” recalls Leonard Cohen‘s romantic lines in the 1992 song, Anthem:

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.

Coping with dysfunction– even making a virtue of necessity–Also recalls Kintsugi (repairing broken pottery with elegance and grace – a tradition with a lot to teach us more generally about how to handle the broken bits of ourselves) (Wikipedia

“The kintsugi philosophy of embracing imperfection and scars resonates with many across the globe, as Tsukamoto observed throughout his years of working with prominent overseas brands, including Louis Vuitton and Chanel, as well as international museums and students. “Taking pride in one’s imperfections offers peace of mind. The greatest lesson from kintsugi is that we can deal with misfortunes by turning them into something more beautiful”. By doing so, he adds, we build our own unique stories.”  Read about the experience of kintsugi with a Japanese master of the craft at the BBC.