Do you ever wonder what in our brain triggers aesthetic experiences? And why do we appreciate certain art pieces, while finding some other ones unattractive? These questions bring us to this new field, neuroaesthetics, a convergence of neuroscience and empirical aesthetics. While empirical aesthetics takes a scientific approach to the study of aesthetic perceptions of art, music, or any object that can give rise to aesthetic judgements, neuroaesthetics uses neuroscience to explain and understand the aesthetic experiences at the neurological level.
The term "neuroaesthetics" was coined by renowned vision researcher Semir Zeki and neuroscientist Vilayanur Ramachandran in 1990s. They identified parallels between an artist's approach to her visual world and her brain's processing of visual information. Light entering our eyes is segregated into different elements, such as color, luminance, and motion, which are processed in different visual centers in our brains. Many artists have been playing with these elements in their artwork. For example, Alexander Calder is an American sculptor known as the originator of the mobile, a type of moving sculpture made with delicately balanced or suspended shapes that move in response to touch or air currents.
Rouge Triomphant (Triumphant Red) (1959-1963) by Alexander Calder, via Gagosian Gallery
Some researchers have explored the impact of brain damage and neural degeneration on the production and appreciation of art. Brain damage can alter patients' artistic abilities, sometimes even causing notable improvements. The famous Dutch-American abstract expressionist painter, Willem De Kooning continued to pain for several year after developing Alzheimers' disease. However, his paintings were different somehow, more deeply expressing his abstract style.
Woman I by Willem De Kooning (Before developing Alzheimer's)
Untitled VII by Willem De Kooning (After developing Alzheimer's)
Neuroaesthetics is still a new and developing field. Technical advances in neuroscientific methods will continue to offer new ways for exploring the aesthetic brain.
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Rouge Triomphant. AO Art Observed, 12 Nov. 2009. Jpg.
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