How Are Our Brains Looking at Art?

JoAnne Artman Gallery
Mar 7, 2020 5:12PM

Science and art have much more in common than we think. Artists go through trial and error as much as scientists do and artworks are made through experimentation not unlike the scientific method. Scientists have been fascinated by the effects art has on our bodies and how our brains work in processing it.

JoAnne Artman Gallery, Laguna Beach

Quoting artists Chuck Close and Richard Serra, Dr. Eric Kandel, a Nobel prize-winning neuroscientist at Columbia University, asserts that artists use a similar experimental approach to scientists. “Chuck Close and Richard Serra said, ‘Creativity is for amateurs— we solve problems.” Kandel’s research has been focused on studying this relationship between science and art. When we see an image, we’re really seeing the photons bouncing off of it. Once our retinas see these photons, our brains help us perceive what’s in front of us through two types of processing, bottom-up and top-down.

JoAnne Artman Gallery, New York

According to Kandel, the bottom-up processing is a system that has evolved over millions of years and behaves as a set of rules. “If you see two people, one much larger than the other, you assume the larger one is closer to you. This is built into your brain,” he says. The top-down processing is built on our personal experiences and how we’re able to really interpret art. Kandel says, “(...) your life story, bears upon your perception— all perception, but certainly your perception of art, and in particular [your] perception of ambiguous art like abstract art.” Our personal experiences are fundamental to the way we see art. How does our body react to art then?

JoAnne Artman Gallery, Laguna Beach

In a 2006 study done by the University of Westminster, researchers reported that participants’ had a lower stress level after spending their lunchtime in an art gallery. After 35 minutes viewing the art, participants generally felt that they were less stressed. In addition, for those participants with higher levels of cortisol (our stress hormone), researchers found that they left with a lower concentration of it. The ways that we experience and appreciate art are scientifically proven to give us pleasure. Neuroscientist Oshin Vartanian from the University of Toronto, who’s conducted 15 different studies on people viewing art, stated that “areas of the brain involved in processing emotion and those that activate our pleasure and reward systems are also being engaged [when viewing art].”

JoAnne Artman Gallery, New York

The ways in which our brain allows us to process and appreciate art works is a fascinating still on-going study. From these scientists and researchers, we’re given a glimpse into our own bodies when we look at art. The next time you stop by our gallery, see and experience for yourself how your body benefits from it.


Now on View at JoAnne Artman Gallery-Laguna Beach


Now on View at JoAnne Artman Gallery-New York


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JoAnne Artman Gallery