The Little Man Within the Brain

To create timeless works of art or fine art, the artist must have great command of his senses, that sensitivity to the touch of pressure, cold, heat and pain. Great painters, sculptures and sketch artists have all exhibited great control over their motor functions. They are able to use their hands, fingers, and coordinate their eyes to translate that creativity locked inside their brain to the object of that creativity; art. But how is that possible? Most call it talent, an ability, or a rare and precious gift. Yet, aside from the rare gift to produce such art, the workings of the human brain are the greatest gift of all. That understanding we owe to science.

Cortial Homunculus

Dr. Wilder Graves Penfield (Jan 26, 1891 – Apr 5, 1976) was an American born Canadian neurosurgeon. His work centered on the functioning of the mind, with much study concerning the surgical treatment of epilepsy. Dr. Penfield is also credited with the idea for a Cortial Homunculus, a graphic representation of the way the brain ‘sees’ the body in terms of motor perception of the Primary Motor Cortex (see illustration below). I use the term ‘see’, but this illustration is more a representation of the way neural resources of the brain are delegated to each area of the body. The primary motor cortex is a brain region that works in conjunction with other areas of the brain (pre-motor areas) to plan and execute movements in the body. If you look closely at this illustration you will note how some areas of the body are much larger than others. This indicates that these parts of the body use more of the neural resources of the Primary Motor Cortex than the other areas. 

The idea of the cortial homunculus was created by Dr. Wilder Penfield

If you pay close attention to the way your body moves, your ability to speak, form facial expressions, hearing, and eyesight, it is clear that these areas would require those additional resources. Fine motor skills of the hands and fingers are essential to most artists abilities. Loss of hands, through disease or accident can result in the brain’s amazing ability to re-establish new avenues and to redirect the fine motor resources to the mouth or the feet and toes. If you doubt that high quality art can not be produced in this manner then try this link: The Association of Mouth and Foot Artists Each of these artists has lost the ability to move their hands either through disease or accident. Yet through sheer will, diligence, and through the spirit of creativity these artists do produce high quality art work.


If you would like a clearer visual representation of the motor/sensory homunculus go to this site (from the University of Tampere in Finland). The interactive Java application on the page will allow you to move your cursor over selected areas of the body illustrated by the homunculus to see how much brain resources are devoted to any particular area of either motor or sensory activity.

My Own Conclusions 

Having mused on this subject for several hours to produce this article, I have some thoughts and questions about brains, talent and primary motor cortexes. What kinds of brains must great artists or scientists have? How must their primary motor cortexes be arranged and delegated? Would constant practice and due diligence press the brain to redirect resources to areas the artist preferred to use? I have to wonder just how Leonard da Vinci’s brain was mapped. After all he wasn’t just an artist, but also a scientist and inventor. If it is possible for someone to become an artist without hands at all, then it must be possible for the rest of us to use our hands for even more than what we perceive possible now. 

Other Related Links

Wikipedia online  article on Cortical homunculus

Wikipedia online article about Dr. Wilder Grave Penfield

Museum of Science Web Site Interactive on Leonardo da Vinci – Scientist, Inventor and Artist


  1. Very interesting!! Who would of thought a certain part of your leg was the one that used a large section of the brain. Love your blogs.:)

    • Thank you for taking the time to review the blog Cindy! We appreciate it very much! Researching these topics has been very educational and fun! You never know what is out there for discovery!

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