Your Brain on Art

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My crush I didn't even know I was crushing on died last week.

He was 82, a neurologist and a prolific writer and storyteller. He had once been addicted to amphetamines. He was an former member of the Hells Angels. He religiously swam a mile a day and kept an office filled with metals and minerals that he once called "little emblems of eternity."

But more than any of these diverse and intriguing parts of Oliver Sacks' life was his obvious and genuine enthusiasm about life. More than just a curious scientist, Sacks was a curious person.

Most of us are like the great doctor in that we take an interest in something or someone. But what made my crush so memorable and unique was how he could take the proverbial hand of one discipline and join it with another, such as science and art and physiology and psychology. He showed how life is interconnected and that by living life we are interconnected as well. Do I know how to pick 'em or what?

Oliver Sacks was beloved for his  engaging and often personal explanations of medical and scientific phenomena.  - COURTESY WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

Since learning of his death, I have watched a few clips of Sacks on my computer. And whether being interviewed by Charlie Rose, giving a TED Talk or yucking it up with Jon Stewart on The Daily Show, Sacks discussed past, present and future ideas the same way across the board: He perched on the edge of his chair and leaned in. He gestured wildly with his hands and reminded me of what my cats used to do in front of the window as they watched the chipmunks and birds flit by -- he twitched and slightly convulsed with excitement. Because of this and his humanistic approach to science, he had an incredible gift of presenting and explaining scientific material to a general audience. His twitching got us twitching.

As I have been reading through the Indy Star fall arts guide, I have found myself feeling twitchy ... and curious and intrigued. There is so much our cultural organizations are offering to us, all diverse and appealing to so many tastes and curiosities. I want to see Dance Kaleidoscope's performance "Remembrances," a ballet in memory of the victims of the Holocaust. My younger son George and his gaming cousin are planning to attend The Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses -- Master Quest based on the iconic video game series. My son William who is at the age where every eighth grader is reading To Kill A Mockingbird will see it performed live onstage at the Indiana Repertory Theatre.

Sacks showed that in so many areas there is a symbiotic relationship and our Indianapolis arts organizations have one as well -- with us, their audience. One cannot get along without the other ... and vice versa.

In Sacks' interview with Jon Stewart, the two discussed his book Musicophilia that inspired the NOVA television documentary Musical Minds. Sacks spoke about the images of his brain taken while listening to Bach and then Beethoven. When Beethoven played, all was quiet and the reward centers of Sacks' brain were void of color. But when Bach came through the speakers, those once quiet reward centers lit up a bright and pervasive orange, looking much like a pinball machine going crazy racking up points.

As part of the Indianapolis art audience, do you plan to light up your mind this coming season? Instead of painting the town red, maybe think of it as painting it orange?

Sacks said that to live on a day-to-day basis is insufficient for human beings and that we need to "transcend, transport and escape." It's easy, folks. As an audience, all that's needed is for us to take the proverbial hand of an artist or an organization and away we go.

What's on your list of must-see events this fall? I'd like to know. What better place than here to share suggestions of places to go?

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