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Observational Drawing in the Brain is an interdisciplinary, collaborative study conducted at Auburn University by Barb Bondy, Professor of Art, Department of Art & Art History and Dr. Jeffrey Katz, Professor of Psychology, Department of Psychology with Dr. Martha Forloines, Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center, Department of Neurology, University of California, Davis, Sacramento, CA, and Lily Strassberg, Auburn University Research Assistant; and, Gopi Deshpande, AU MRI Research Center, Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering, Auburn University. 

The research team combines art training and Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) to investigate the behavioral and neural changes (brain plasticity) behind students learning to draw in an introductory drawing course with emphasis on observational drawing offered in the Department of Art & Art History at Auburn University.

This study tested art students at the beginning and end of a 16-week observational drawing course compared to a group of non-art students. We present some of the first evidence for task-based fMRI that functional changes can be detected via fMRI from participation in an observational drawing class. Brain areas involved in attention, decision making, motor control, top-down control, visual information processing, and working memory all changed with art experience. This is an important development in showing the method can work to track changes over time due to training in the arts and has implications for pedagogy and mental health.  


This study was supported in part by an award from the Research: Art Works program at the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA); the Auburn University Intramural Grants Program, and College of Liberal Arts Competitive Collaborative &Interdisciplinary Research and Humanities Grant.The opinions expressed in this study are those of the author(s) and do not represent the views of the Office of Research & Analysis or the National Endowment for the Arts. The NEA does not guarantee the accuracy or completeness of the information included in this study and is not responsible for any consequence of its use.



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Observational Drawing in the Brain

Professors Bondy and Katz present on a panel: "Renée Fleming: Music and the Mind" at Auburn University, September 2019.

Martha Forloines,, Jeff Katz


Gopi Deshpande, Jeff Katz, Lily Strassberg


Lily Strassberg,, Barb Bondy,  Jeff Katz, and Martha Forloines


Tom Denney, Director, AU MRI Research Center

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