22 January 2010


WSJ | Candace Jackson | How Art Affects the Brain: A new exhibit explores science and aesthetics

At an exhibit opening this weekend at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, visitors will be asked to wear 3-D glasses and walk around with clipboards and pencils while looking at images of sculptures.

"Beauty and the Brain: A Neural Approach to Aesthetics," enlists the public as participants in a Johns Hopkins University study that looks at why the human brain is attracted to artwork.

Museum-goers will look at 3-D printouts of altered versions of sculptures by abstract artist Jean Arp. One of his works, "The Woman of Delos" (1959), will also be on display at the Walters. While looking at computer-altered versions of the sculptures—some skinnier, others more rotund—participants will be asked which they are most attracted to, and which they like the least.

Organizers say they hope to shed a scientific light on some of the ideas that philosophers have discussed for centuries. One of those is that there's a unique way that the brain activates when we view compelling artwork, something philosophers have called the "aesthetic emotion," says Gary Vikan, director of the Walters and curator of the show.
That's awesome. I'd love to see this done with near infrared spectroscopy in addition to clip boards, but that's a whole extra complication.

I may have to stop in at the Walters on the way to Philadelphia one of these days.

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