New perceptions in art through neuroscientific research

If we go to an art gallery, we react to the artwork in many ways. We may feel slightly interested, quite interested, fascinated, inspired. Or we may feel bored, disinterested, slightly disturbed, annoyed, irritated, or even angry. Not knowing how to look at art, its history, or what is behind the meaning of what we are seeing, our reactions are subject to our own personal feelings. If we had taken an art appreciation class or studied art history, we would have a different perception; a knowledge of how art developed and where we could place it in the timeline of art development today.

Arts education: knowing the artistic movements, the timelines, the developments, what motivated the artists of the past personally and sociologically, will alter our perspectives and change the way we see art. For example, if we don’t know anything about Picasso, looking at one of his cubist paintings can make us shake our heads and walk away, perplexed. How could that cut-off view 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 trying to translate natural rounded shapes into geometric and flattened shapes, 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, there was a paradigm shift and an expansion of their perception skills. And in most cases, they learned to enjoy art within a new context of understanding: a broader, information-rich visual and historical understanding.

But now, there is additional knowledge in neuroscience that has shaken the foundations of these studies of Art Appreciation and Art History.


Very recently, in the last decade, the perception of art has been studied by scientists and, especially, by neuroscientists, who observe how the neurons in our brains respond to various stimuli, including visual, and especially, art.

These studies are coming to light through various publications, and altering our ideas about how we perceive art. Those of use that 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 indelibly altered by these new neuroscience studies.

Does this research make Art Appreciation and Art History so different? Yes. From a neuroscientist’s point of view, we are, in fact, very much connected to our brains to see things in a certain way and the art we have made for thousands of years has been measured by our neural response to the images we have created.

The final realization of this new research in neuroscience is that the global art market has its roots in this understanding, not that anyone selling art from the Jurassic has measured their sales in neuroscience, but has inadvertently been in line with the knowledge that some visual images attract more than others. How many other global markets can begin to equate and calculate their sales according to this new technology?


An interesting new science is developing in the perception of art why we like what we see, and how the art market responds to our visual desires. Neuro-aesthetics is a new definition of perception that V.S. Ramachandran, a leading neuroscientist, writes about in his recent book, “The Tell-Tale Brain,” As a scientist researching many areas of neuroscience, he says, “Science tells us that we are simply beasts, but we don’t feel that way. We feel like angels trapped inside the bodies of beasts, always longing for transcendence. And he adds, this is human predicament in a nutshell. He responds to our need for a higher being and sees that our ancient profile as human beings is proof of that.

Ramachandran offers a new perception of what art does, why we like what we see, and what the art market uses to develop the value of artwork. It establishes a premise that looks at how we see art in a new way. Through his research into brain response situations, he has developed a profile of how and why art is attractive to us.


Mirror neurons in our human brains are unique in the sense that we can feel empathy (feel what they feel) with our peers in a way that animals or any other species cannot. In the development of our brains over thousands of years, we have realized not only ourselves as an image we keep in our brains (the knowledge and image of ourselves), but also how we can make a trace of history, make our own album of personal data and autobiography that we can reproduce for our reference to relive tender memories, moments of anxiety, challenging situations and terrible and sad events. Because we know ourselves, we can record our personal stories in great detail in our brains and use these historical memories as resources for our development (or disappearance, if we become depressed or chronically affected by our negative past).


V.S. Ramachandran’s research and creation of neuro-aesthetics has entered the world of Art History and Art Appreciation and is changing the perspective of Art History‚Ķ. Prior to his studies, art historical research, which became the study and research of art history, was established at the beginning of the 19th century. A profile and timeline of art development was developed that gave credibility to the history of the development of painting and sculpture basically in the western world.

These studies gave an image to the academic community of the development of art from cave paintings to contemporary art in Europe and America. In the American academic world, Art History 101, the developmental child of Art History and has been the primary educational subject on art history to the present day.


This documentation-rich outline of art history currently taught in most academic settings often has a narrow view of historical creative effort in the sense that it is not global and, therefore, to meet the needs of a rapidly expanding world, the study of art history must be updated to include many of the creative cultures of many other civilizations, including Africa, Indonesia, Asia, China, Russia, and beyond.

The point of view of the scientific community reflects the interest and need for many areas of study to continue in the future. What neuroscience studies define for us is our global bond as connected human beings to see our creative development in a new and different way. Despite all 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 link to other cultures. Science has always had its strengths in objectivity, observation and empirical judgment. In an ever-expanding world of knowledge, it is necessary that all sources of research be extended without restriction to other sources, so that the whole spectrum of knowledge is enriched and thus benefits the global community.

Author: John Wright