Friday, May 31, 2013

Why Do We Love To Make And View Art?

Our Artful Brain

What it takes to take in, say, a Picasso


What is it about our species that we make art and view art and love art? I’m thinking of the ancient cave paintings in France and Spain, begun 40,800 years ago—the age of the oldest red-painted dot to be accurately dated. (It’s found in a cave called El Castillo in the Spanish province of Cantabria.) The high cave-art era occurred between 17,000 and 12,000 years ago. How modern they seem, those lyrical representations of bison, horse, mammoth, ibex, deer, and auroch (pronounced OUR-rock, an ancestor of the dairy cow). They were made by drawing curved lines in charcoal and adding shadows and highlights in mineral-derived colors such as red ochre to convey movement and three-dimensionality.

How we see—how the brain perceives what the eyes take in—is entangled with how we see art, how we make art. This is one thread in the book The Age of Insight: The Quest to Understand the Unconscious in Art, Mind, and Brain by neuroscientist Eric R. Kandel. If I were going to be washed up on a desert island with my choice of 10 books, along with, I would hope, a good supply of espresso, this thick and handsome volume—a tapestry of art history, psychology, creativity studies, and brain science—would be one of them.

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