BWGallerist

Aesthetic Theory 101: The Brain and Beauty

In Art Museum, Article on January 28, 2010 at 11:20 am

[ART_WALTERS]

Jean Arp’s “The Woman of Delos”

A recent Wall Street Journal article addresses an age old question of “Why do we love a particular piece of art?”

Beauty and the Brain: A Neural Approach to Aesthetics is an exhibit that just opened at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore. While this is not a photography exhibit, it explores the same ground of aesthetic experience found in photograph viewing.

The museum patrons are viewing sculptures in 3-D printouts with the work altered via computer. They then decide what examples they like best.

Organizers say they hope to shed a scientific light on some of the ideas that philosophers have discussed for centuries. One of those is that there’s a unique way that the brain activates when we view compelling artwork, something philosophers have called the "aesthetic emotion," says Gary Vikan, director of the Walters and curator of the show.

A related hypothesis is that successful artists are like magicians who have learned to exploit the edges of the brain’s perception with sleight-of-hand trickery: They have an innate sense of what tickles the parts of the brain that process visual cues. "The artist is intuitively a neuroscientist, “ says Mr. Vican.

The article points out that this type of experiment is very difficult to judge due to many exogenous factors involved with culture and context. Nonetheless, it is an interesting exploration of the mind/body relationship.

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