I Know What I Like

The world’s art museums are testament to the pleasure felt by the public when viewing the great art of the current and previous civilizations. These days it is no longer sufficient to say, “I like that one” or “I don’t think much of that.” We need a more scientific or objective measure.

We now have a field of scientific endeavor call neuroaesthetics that works to unravel what the ‘little grey cells’ are doing when we stare at a nude by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres. Prof. Zeki at U C London has started down the road to finding out what is going on inside our heads. His latest study was described in the UK’s daily telegraph (1).

A group of volunteers were stuffed headfirst, one at a time, into MRI machines to have their medial orbitofrontal cortex watched while they were shown images of old masters at intervals of ten seconds. Now our medial orbitofrontal cortex is the part of our brain in which we experience pleasure and desire. Increased blood flow indicates that we are working those little grey cells hard.

There were no surprises in that artists like Ingres and Constable caused to greatest rush of blood to the head. Viewing pictures by artists such as Quentin Matsys caused the least excitement. A reproduction in oil of his ‘The Ugly Duchess’ is available from the Oil Painting Factory (2), so you can try the experiment for yourself and see if your medial orbitofrontal cortex gets overheated.
'The Ugly Duchess, Quentin Matsys
photo National Gallery, London
The effects of the beautiful pictures was sufficiently strong that the suggestion was made that art should be made as widely available as possible to the general public where ever they are. However, this begs the question as to who is going to choose, and what are  they going to choose to keep us looking, at if the aim is to keep us topped up with feelings of pleasure and desire from morning ‘till night. I, for one, am unsure if I can survive such sensory overload. We will have to have a sufficient smattering of ‘ugly art’ added into the mix.

  1. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/art/art-news/8500012/Brain-scans-reveal-the-power-of-art.html
  2. http://www.oilpaintingfactory.com/english/oil-painting-102133.htm

    Leave a Reply