THE PERCEPTION OF ART
If we go to an art gallery, we react to the artwork in many ways. We may feel mildly interested, quite interested, entranced, inspired. Or we might feel bored, disinterested, mildly disturbed, upset, aggravated or even, enraged. Without knowing about how to look at art, its history, or what is behind the meaning of what we are looking at, our reactions are subject to our own personal feelings. If we had taken an art appreciation class or studied about art history, we would have a different perception; a knowledge of how the art developed and where we could place it in the timeline of art development today.
Art education– knowing art movements, timelines, developments, what motivated artists of the past personally and sociologically, will alter our perspectives and change the way we see art. For example, if we know nothing of Picasso, looking at one of his Cubist paintings may cause us shake our heads and walk away, perplexed. How could that chopped up vision of a human being be attractive and meaningful? But if we had read about Picasso during his Cubist period and knew that the colors he used were monochromatic and architectural for a reason, that Picasso was dealing with translating natural rounded forms to geometrical, flattened forms and that these images would inspire a new era of contemporary painting-then would we see Picasso’s Cubist paintings differently?
Yes. For many of my Art Appreciation students, a paradigm shift and expansion of their skills of perception occurred. And in most cases, they learned how to enjoy art within a new context of understanding: a broader visual and historical, information-rich understanding.
But now, there is additional knowledge in neuroscience that has shaken the foundation of these studies of Art Appreciation and Art History.
A NEW ART APPRECIATION
Very recently, within the last decade, the perception of art has been studied by scientists and, especially, neuroscientists, that look at how neurons in our brains respond to various stimuli, including the visual, and especially, art.
These studies are just surfacing to the public through various publications, and altering our ideas of how we perceive art. Those of use who were linked to their own personal perceptions of art, as well as those (like me) who have studied and taught the subjects of Art History and Art Appreciation, have been altered indelibly by these new neuroscience studies.
Is this research making Art Appreciation and Art History so very different? Yes. From a neuroscientist’s point of view, we are, indeed, hard wired in our brains for seeing things in a certain way and the art we have manufactured for thousands of years, has been gauged to our neural response to the images we have created.
The ultimate realization of this new neuroscience research is that the global art market has its roots in this understanding-not that anyone selling art since the Jurassic has gauged their sales on neuroscience, but has been inadvertently in line with the knowledge that some visual images appeal more than others. How many other global markets can begin to equate and calculate their sales according to this new technology?
WHAT IS NEUROAESTHETICS?
A new and interesting science is developing in the perception of art why we like what we see, and how the art market responds to our visual desires. Neuroaesthetics, is a new definition of perception which V.S. Ramachandran, a noted neuroscientist, writes about in his recent book, “The Tell-Tale Brain,” As a scientist researching many areas of neuroscience, he says, “Science tells us we are merely beasts, but we don’t feel like that. We feel like angels trapped inside the bodies of beasts, forever craving transcendence.” And he adds, this is the human predicament in a nutshell. He responds to our need for a higher being and sees that our ancient profile as human beings gives evidence to this.
Ramachandran offers a new perception on what makes art, why we like what we see and what the art market uses to develop the value of artistic work. He establishes a premise that looks at how we see art in a new way. Through his research in brain-response situations, he has developed a profile of how and why art is attractive to us.
WHAT ARE MIRROR NEURONS?
Mirror neurons in our human brains are unique in that we can empathsize (feel the way they do) with our fellow humans in a way that animals or any other species can’t. In the development of our brains over thousands of years, we have become aware of not only ourselves as an image we keep in our brains (the knowledge and image of self) but also how we can manufacture a trail of history, make our own personal data album and autobiography that we can play back for our reference to relive tender memories, anxious moments, challenging situations, and terrible, sad events. Because we are knowing our own selves, we can record our personal histories in great detail in our brains and use these historical memories as resources for our development (or demise, if we get depressed or chronically affected by our negative past.)
A NEW PERCEPTION OF ART
V.S. Ramachandran’s research and creation of neuroaesthetics has entered the world of Art History and Art Appreciation and is changing the perspective of art history.. Prior to his studies, art historical research, which became the study and research of Art History, was established in the early 19th century. A profile and timeline of art development was developed which gave credible history to the development of painting, and sculpture basically in the Western world.
These studies gave a picture to the academic community of the development of art from the cave paintings to contemporary art in Europe and America. In the American academic world, Art History 101, the child of Art History development and has been the prime educational subject on the history of art until the present.
THE GLOBAL COMMUNITY
This Art History outline presently taught in most academic environments, rich with documentation, often has a narrow view of historical creative endeavor in that it is not global and so to meet the needs of a rapidly expanding world, the study of Art History has to be updated to include many the creative cultures of many other civilizations including Africa, Indonesia, Asia, China, Russia and beyond.
The view from the science community echoes an interest and need for many areas of study to go ahead into the future. What studies in neuroscience define for us is our global link as humans hard wired to see our creative development in a new and different way. For all of our accumulated wealth in the sciences, the link to other cultural resources has been a detriment to our development as a nation and a global linking with other cultures. Science has always had its strengths in objectivity, observation and empirical judgment. Within an ever-expanding world of knowledge, it is necessary for every source of research to spread unrestricted into other sources so that the total spectrum of knowledge will be enriched and therefore, benefit the global community.