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Do Paintings Reveal Cognitive Decline?


 Katherine Brown (Jones-Smith)
Katherine Brown (Jones-Smith)

In a Guardian article titled “Paintings reveal early signs of cognitive decline, claims study,” Assistant Professor of Physics Kate Brown firmly disagreed with the researcher’s findings.

In her 2006 paper published by the journal Nature, Brown debunked a previous theory that fractal analysis could be used to authenticate Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings.

The new University of Liverpool study reported, according to the Dec. 29 article, that “the first subtle hints of cognitive decline may reveal themselves in an artist’s brush strokes many years before dementia is diagnosed.”

The researcher, Alex Forsythe, and her colleagues used digital imaging software to calculate how a mathematical feature called fractal density varied in artists’ paintings over their careers. Brown’s response to this premise was “complete and utter nonsense.”

In Brown’s 2006 study, she said that “sketches dashed out on her computer had the same fractal dimensions as a Pollock drip painting and might be authenticated as the real thing,” according to the Guardian. “The whole premise of ‘fractal expressionism’ is completely false. Since our work came out, claims of fractals in Pollock’s work have largely disappeared from peer-reviewed physics journals. But it seems that the fractal zealots have managed to exert some influence in psychology,” concluded Brown in the interview.

Similar articles on the study also appeared after the Guardian article in the online publication Quartz, artnet News, ScienceAlert and Huffington Post.

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