The Brain and Art

What the Brain Can Tell Us About Art

                                                                                                 Jonathan Rosen

                                                                                                 Jonathan Rosen

Two years ago President Obama unveiled a breathtakingly ambitious initiative to map the human brain, the ultimate goal of which is to understand the workings of the human mind in biological terms.

 Many of the insights that have brought us to this point arose from the merger over the past 50 years of cognitive psychology, the science of mind, and neuroscience, the science of the brain. The discipline that has emerged now seeks to understand the human mind as a set of functions carried out by the brain.

 This new approach to the science of mind not only promises to offer a deeper understanding of what makes us who we are, but also opens dialogues with other areas of study — conversations that may help make science part of our common cultural experience.

 Consider what we can learn about the mind by examining how we view figurative art. In a recently published book, Erick Kandel tried to explore this question by focusing on portraiture, because we are now beginning to understand how our brains respond to the facial expressions and bodily postures of others. 

The portraiture that flourished in Vienna at the turn of the 20th century is a good place to start. Not only does this modernist school hold a prominent place in the history of art, it consists of just three major artists — Gustav Klimt, Oskar Kokoschka and Egon Schiele — which makes it easier to study in depth.

 As a group, these artists sought to depict the unconscious, instinctual strivings of the people in their portraits, but each painter developed a distinctive way of using facial expressions and hand and body gestures to communicate those mental processes.” Read the rest of the article by Eric Kandel here: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/14/opinion/sunday/what-the-brain-can-tell-us-about-art.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

Note: For the first time in its history, the MFA will exhibit a painting by Gustav Klimt—among the most important artists of the early 20th century.

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 “Adam and Eve (1917–18) will be on loan from the Belvedere Museum in Vienna as part of the MFA’s Visiting Masterpiece series, giving visitors a taste of the artist’s signature style, including his sensuous approach to the nude, his bold experiments with pattern, color, and finish, and his exploration of human consciousness and desire. The work will be juxtaposed with the MFA’s life-sized study of a nude couple, Two Nudes (Lovers) (1913), painted by Klimt’s Viennese friend and colleague, Oskar Kokoschka. No more than five years separate the two paintings, which share many features—ambitious scale, daring experiments with form and finish, and, above all, a fascination with sexuality. Each is, in its own way, a product of Freud’s Vienna, but also of a singular artist with a singular vision.”

http://www.mfa.org/exhibitions/visiting-masterpiece-klimt

http://www.mfa.org/programs/course/klimt-and-his-contemporaries