science of art

Having one foot in the art world and the other in science has been an unexpectedly fruitful effort. Painters are not often language oriented, and scientists are not often pictorially oriented, so there hasn't been much of a connection. University people tend to see pictures in terms of themes, personality analyses and symbolism, which to me is a crashing bore.  I did my PhD on some cognitive neurological effects of painting and drawing from models - especially the human form - see links below. But in my years as an experimental psychologist as well as a clinical one, I learned how much psychology and art can give and support each other. From the glorious research in obedience (Stanley Milgram pioneered this) and conformity (have a look at Solomon Asch's experiment on Youtube and be amazed), you can get a handle on why we tend to be afraid to show ourselves as individuals, which is what you have to do in order to be creative. It explains why creativity is given lots of lip service and very little support. It lends perspective on why we are damaged if we conform too much to social roles, that we are not free to give up our personalities; the price is depression and anxiety.

Then there is the cognitive psychological perspective; about how the system works and how to coordinate or separate the different resources. For instance; language is a costly process that in many ways happens at the expense of perceptual - and emotional awareness. Language is a cognitive function, a slow and deliberate process occurring in the cerebral cortex. Perception and emotion are part of a different system, a vastly faster one in which emotion and perception are perfectly coordinated. The impact this has on painting, both in viewing artwork and producing it, is that too much slow, cognitive activity will reduce access to the spontaneous assessment/appreciation which is the most important aspect of art. It is the immediate, lively impression that packs the punch, not the laborious verbal analyses.


The PhD examined eye movement behaviour, visual memory and hemispheric specialization (which half of the brain does what) in painters trained in live modelling compared to laymen. I found quite a lot more that anyone, including me, expected.


Two of the articles are:


Hemispheric specialization and recognition memory for abstract and realistic pictures: a comparison of painters and laymen



Expertise in pictorial perception: eye movement patterns and visual memory in artists and laymen









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