Download CMU The Tartan Online, PA 10-02-06 The science of aesthetics

yes no Was this document useful for you?
   Thank you for your participation!

* Your assessment is very important for improving the work of artificial intelligence, which forms the content of this project

Document related concepts

Connectome wikipedia, lookup

Selfish brain theory wikipedia, lookup

Brain morphometry wikipedia, lookup

Haemodynamic response wikipedia, lookup

Neurophilosophy wikipedia, lookup

Neuroanatomy wikipedia, lookup

Human brain wikipedia, lookup

Neurolinguistics wikipedia, lookup

Aging brain wikipedia, lookup

Neuroinformatics wikipedia, lookup

Neuroeconomics wikipedia, lookup

Neuroplasticity wikipedia, lookup

Time perception wikipedia, lookup

Holonomic brain theory wikipedia, lookup

Cognitive neuroscience wikipedia, lookup

History of neuroimaging wikipedia, lookup

Brain Rules wikipedia, lookup

Neuropsychopharmacology wikipedia, lookup

Neuropsychology wikipedia, lookup

Metastability in the brain wikipedia, lookup

Neuroesthetics wikipedia, lookup

CMU The Tartan Online, PA
The science of aesthetics
Paul Klee, an early 20th-century artist, once said, “Art does not reproduce the
visible, it makes things visible.” Art has a way of capturing the unfathomable, of
translating emotions beyond the capabilities of science and theory. But art can do
more than explain our feelings; it can help explain our minds.
Aesthetics, the study of personal taste, has always been a subject of
philosophical debate. Probably the most argued aesthetic concept is the origin of
beauty: Is it really in the eye of the beholder, or is beauty a specific quality,
independent of its audience?
In recent years, neuroesthetics emerged as a branch of aesthetics equipped with
potential new answers to this question. Semir Zeki, part of the Wellcome
Department of Imaging Neuroscience at University College in London, pioneered
the field of neuroesthetics in order to fill a void in the general study of beauty.
“I am convinced that there can be no satisfactory theory of aesthetics that is not
neurobiologically based,” wrote Zeki in “Artistic Creativity and the Brain,” an
essay in a 2001 issue of Science.
The realm of visual art contains some compelling examples of works relevant to
the properties of the brain. Piet Mondrian’s famous compositions of primary
colors on white canvases separated by black, horizontal, and vertical lines were
the artist’s attempt to uncover the essence of form.
Years after Mondrian created his works, neurobiologists discovered orientationselective cells, cells in the brain that only react to straight lines. Scientists now
consider orientation-selective cells as the most basic components of form
“This is why I believe that artists are, in a sense, neurologists who unknowingly
study the brain with techniques unique to them,” wrote Zeki. However, artists are
not alone in their exploration of the brain. In 2003, Zeki and research partner
Hideaki Kawakbata conducted an experiment, “Neural Correlates of Beauty,” out
of University College.
Their purpose was to uncover whether the same part of the brain reacts to
paintings, both beautiful and ugly, regardless of their type (portrait, landscape,
still life, or abstract). Ten participants monitored via a 2T Magnetom Vision fMRI
scanner rated each of 196 paintings by pressing one of three buttons
corresponding to the three categories.
For a portion of their analysis, Zeki and Zawakbata ignored the four types of
paintings and considered parts of the brain that were activated by judgments of
beauty and ugliness.
They detected four areas of heightened activity: the medial orbito-frontal cortex,
the anterior cingulate, the parietal cortex, and the motor cortex.
Of these, the orbito-frontal cortex and the motor cortex sustained an increase in
activity when recognizing beauty and ugliness, respectively.
Zeki and Zawakbata’s discovery answered the question that had originally
motivated the research. The data indicates there are specific brain areas that
become active during judgments of beauty and ugliness regardless of the type of
art being evaluated. Thus the evaluation of beauty must be neurologically tied to
the observer.
“All human activity is ultimately a product of the organization of our brains, and
subject to its laws,” Zeki stated. “A major function of art can thus be regarded as
a function of the brain, namely to seek knowledge about the world.” According to
Zeki, there are two fundamental laws of visual perception: constancy and
abstraction. He postulated that many famous works of art obey these laws.
The law of constancy dictates that the brain must focus on only certain elements
of an image, those that remain constant. It would be impossible to take into
account the volatile aspects of every image we perceive, like lighting, viewing
point, and distance.
Cubism, an art movement associated with Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque,
was in part a conscious attempt by its participants to ignore such fleeting
components of perception.
Similarly, the law of abstraction also enables the brain to learn of its environment
efficiently. An observer has the ability pick out abstract concepts from particular
images. This is because the human memory is not large enough to store all of
the particulars; we must instead be able to hold onto concepts.
Three-fifths of Michelangelo’s sculptures, those left unfinished, are excellent
examples of the rule of abstraction. His sculptures are abstract in the sense that
the brain has the task of completing them.
Completed works of abstract art necessitate the same function. Part of the
struggle of an artist is to translate an abstract mental concept into a physical
object. Once the work is created, the viewer interprets what has been left in the
abstract. Neuroesthetics is just one way to consider the broad topic of aesthetics.
“Aesthetics is generally regarded as a field of philosophy,” said Dennis Dake, a
professor in the art and design department at Iowa State University.
In recent years, neurologists have argued in favor of a connection between art
and its observer, and their results are paralleled in the art community.
“Without an audience you don’t have anything,” Dake said.
Dake compared a painting without an audience to a tree falling in a forest where
no one is present: “It has to somehow be accepted by the people in the field.”
Scientists and philosophers alike are still far from forming any definitive
conclusions on the subject of aesthetics. Fortunately, the body of material
available for research only continues to grow.
“Art history is to the artist as ornithology is to the birds,” said Dake. Birds will
continue to fly, just as artists will continue to create art.