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Neuroaesthetics - is that a thing?

The question of why and which art appeals is age old. With the use of functional magnetic resonance imagining (fMRI), researchers are attempting to answer this question of why we find art aesthetically pleasing. One study done by Edward A. Vessel, shows images of art to people while their brain is being scanned. The researchers are hoping to find that a certain area of the brain will light up when the participants see art that they rate as pleasing. This is an example of the new field of neuroaesthetics which uses neuroscience to explain or understand aesthetic preferences.

Howard Hodgkin (UK) is a painter known for his abstracts, he says "I paint pictures of emotional situations". This photo on the left has an emotional, nostalgic pull for me. It's setting is one of my happy places - the beach, I like the sense of fun and awkwardness, I like the purity of the sand, I like the trace of movement in her feet, I like the feeling of a moment in time, literally a snapshot, I feel an emotional connection.

So knowing why you like a piece of art can be quite tricky. Often people say "I just know what I like", in quite an emphatic way. Sometimes though, you'll find an image will creep up on you, initially a piece that I was dismissive about becomes more intriguing or compelling the more I encounter it. Or it might be that as I look at more art and learn more about creating art, my visual literacy reaches another level.

I think Hodgkin agrees when he states "Your talent stays the same, your critical eye gets better." And let's face it this 'critical eye' has to start somewhere, so I can get quite annoyed when galleries cop criticism for populist exhibitions. Surely the world of art is eventually better off, more people showing interest in art is a good thing, the galleries then have a chance to train the 'critical eye' that Hodgkin's speaks about. Then again, maybe there's entirely to much thinking going on, I'll give the last word to Howard "I never try to understand anything I do, it's a waste of time.

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