Matters of the Artful Heart

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“To send light into the darkness of men’s hearts – such is the duty of the artist.”  ~Schumann (from

As research continues into how the brain responds to art, one journalist is questioning whether art is being reduced to a basic scientific formula.  Why do we need to know how the brain responds to different types or styles of art?  Does this matter to artists or art lovers?

Tiffany Jenkins of The Scotsman, has an article titled, “Art is more than brain deep.”  Jenkins cites research being carried out at University College London by Professor Semir Zeki on neuroaesthetics.  According to Jenkins, Professor Zeki is working to define how and what in the brain determines beauty.  Apparently defining beauty by the brain’s reaction will assist artists, galleries and assorted “others” interested in making, marketing or presenting art in the decision process of what is defined as “beautiful.”

Jenkins is right in her argument that art should not be reduced to a scientific formula but does that really matter?  A scientific formula based on brain reaction does not necessarily follow that the heart will also react.  A work can create a brain response that may or may not be reciprocated by the heart.  Scientific formula based art will still lack heart.  Any art without heart will likely not speak to another heart.  Art decisions made by true artists and art lovers will be made from the heart, not the brain.  It is great to understand brain responses to art, but the most important response is and has always been the response of the heart.  Is anyone studying that response?  It’s the only one that matters.

The Artfully Unique Brain

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“A work of art is the unique result of a unique temperament.” Oscar Wilde (from Brainyquote)

Does art have the power to reach the brain in unique ways?  Do certain artworks directly connect with the deep inner recesses of the brain?  Does art have a brain pathway to who we are as unique individuals?  These are the questions asked by a team of neuroscientists in a recent research project.  The findings suggest a brain connection to how people respond to different types of art that is as unique as the individual.

The Arts Journal has posted an article appearing in the Pacific Standard by Tom Jacobs titled, “Mapping the Brain’s Response to Art.”  Jacobs sums up the latest research at New York University’s Center for Brain Imaging by a team headed by Edward Vessel and first appearing in Frontiers of Neuroscience.  Vessel’s team mapped brain responses to the viewing of art in individuals.  The findings show the brain has a distinct reaction to certain works of art.  Each person’s reaction is directly related to the unique identity of the individual.

It would appear from this research that a universal style or type of art may not be possible as the reactions to different works of art were as different as the people themselves.  The researchers were able to show the exact activation of certain parts of the brain to the art.  They found the reaction to be unpredictable in which work of art would set it off in each person.

Art unequivocally produces a brain connection creating the response of a moving experience.  The reactions, according to the research, suggest why some art appeals to some and not to others.  This confirms art as vital to human life, to who we are as people.  It also explains why some people have the ability to connect with an eggbeater as art, while others do not.  Therefore, unique artists can uniquely continue creating unique art.  It is likely there are unique people whose unique brains uniquely respond to the unique work of a unique artist with a unique temperament.

*photo is a unique strand of Spanish moss