Are artistic brains different? (Medium)


Does the brain of people with artistic abilities work differently from those who can’t paint, draw or play any instrument? Sam and Neil talk about Mozart and teach you related vocabulary.

This week’s question

Amadeus Mozart was considered a child prodigy – a young child with very great musical talent. So, how old was Mozart when he composed his first piece of music?

a)    five years old

b)    ten years old

c)    fifteen years old

Listen to the programme to find out the answer. 


child prodigy
a young child with very great talent and ability in something

making sense of the information your brain receives about the external world

general, overall understanding of something, without the detail

useful pieces of advice about how to do something

blown away
(informal) very impressed or pleasantly surprised by something

(US) capable of being taught or trained

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Cloze Test



Hello. This is 6 Minute English from BBC Learning English. Im Neil.


And Im Sam.

Would you say youre artistic, Sam? Can you draw or paint? Do you dance or play music?


play the piano a bit. Yes, Id say Im quite artistic. How about you, Neil?


Well, if count playing football as artistic then yes, but basically no  � I cant paint.


Weve been why artistic ability comes more naturally to some people than others, so in this programme well be asking: are ’ brains different? Well hear two expert opinions, and as usual, well learn some useful new vocabulary as well. So, do you think, Neil? Are artists’ brains different from other peoples’?


Im not sure, Sam, but its that many artists behave differently, often in very strange ways. For example, did you know that Michelangelo worked so he never took a bath! Or that guitar legend, Jimi Hendrix, once set fire to his guitar on stage!

Well hear more about the artists brain soon, but first I have a question for you. As you said, ability comes naturally to some people, including the famous composer, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Mozart was considered a child prodigy a young child with very great musical talent. So, how old was Mozart when he composed his first piece music? Was he:

a) five years old?

b) ten years old? or,

c) fifteen years old?


guess he was a) five years old.


OK, Sam. Ill reveal the answer later in the programme. artists’ brains are different, it could mean they see the world in unusual ways. Dr Rebecca Chamberlain is a in the neuroscience of art. She investigates how artists see the objects they are drawing by measuring saccades  � rapid movements our eyes make as they jump from one thing to another. Here she shares her findings with World Service programme, CrowdScience.

Rebecca Chamberlain

Artists seem to be processing the visual world in a different way non-artists-, particularly when theyre drawing. The artist actually takes a more global approach to looking  � so they make saccades, bigger eye movements, and shorter fixations on the image. So, its almost like theyre getting much more of kind of gist level view of the thing theyre looking at.


Rebeccas experiments seem to confirm artists’ brains work differently because of their processing of the visual world  � the way their brains make sense information. Interestingly, processing also means the act of developing pictures from photographic film.


When they draw, artists bigger, quicker eye movements so they are able to see the whole picture, something also known as the gist  � the overall, general impression of something without focussing on the details. If you ‘get the gist’ of what someone saying, you understand the overall meaning of what they say, but not the details.


The second expert answer our question about the artistic brain is Mike, a BBC World Service listener from Malawi. Mike is a painter who creates large, colourful pictures in his studio. According to him, artistic ability isnt something youre born with it can be learned, as he explained to BBC World Services’, CrowdScience.

Arts teacher Mike

I had this student… he was really at the zero, like, he could not draw  � at all. So, I gave him tips, and in a month, he was really good  � he was like really surprised, blown away, he never it. So, there are some things that are trainable, its like a bike. In my case, I learned how do those things without anyone telling me, you know like, if you are drawing the face, the human face, distance between your eyes is the same as one of your eyes.


Mike gives tips to students  � helpful pieces of advice about how to do something, in this case, to paint. After getting Mikes , one of his students really improved and started painting much better. Mike was blown away  � an informal way say very impressed or surprised.


Like learning to ride a bike, Mike thinks that painting is trainable  � a word from American English meaning that it can be taught or trained. For him, this is proof that ’ brains are not so different after all.


So, there we have it  � two different options, but final answer to our question. Still, some scientists think there may be third possibility: everyones brain works by focussing some areas and ignoring others, making a kind of jigsaw puzzle with missing pieces. Maybe all of us  � , me, Mozart and Jimi Hendrix - are just filling in the missing pieces our own way.


Speaking Mozart, Neil, its time to reveal the answer to your question.


Right. I asked how old child Mozart was when he first composed music.


I said he was five years old… so, was I ?


Your answer was correct! Mozart was five when first wrote music, and by the age of six had performed in front of the Emperor of Austria  � twice! Now theres an artistic brain!


OK, , lets recap the vocabulary from this programme, starting with child prodigy - a young child, like Mozart, with a talent in something.


Processing describes how your brain makes sense of the information it receives.


gist of something is a general understanding of it, without the details.


Tips are useful pieces of about how to do something better.


If you are blown away, you are very impressed or surprised something.


And finally, trainable means able to be trained or taught, in American English.


Once , our six minutes are up. Its goodbye for now!





created with the online Cloze Test Creator © 2009 Lucy Georges


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