Art is both a dialogue and an investigation created in response to what happens in the world we live in. When it comes to modern conversations between fields of human inquiry, the interaction between Neuroscience and Art is of particular interest to me. At first glance the two seem incompatible. Neuroscience takes place in labs, with medical instruments and lots of computing power, following the scientific method and seeking to answer predetermined questions through data collection. Conversely, art takes place in studios with paintbrushes, pencils, and free-flowing creativity, following aesthetic rules (or no rules at all) in order to represent something or arouse an emotion. However, upon simply asking what the relationship between Art and Neuroscience is, one finds a myriad of answers coming from both fields. Neuroscientists consider art a valuable tool for research as well as a subject of research while artists consider neuroscientific advances tools and subjects for their art as well. The gap between these two fields is made smaller in virtue of the nature of Contemporary Art; “a dynamic combination of materials, methods, concepts, and subjects” (Art 21).
Neuroscientists like Sarah Schwettmann from MIT lead investigations with questions that ponder how our sensory perception of the world is connected to our creative tendencies. Her cross-disciplinary course offers the view that our brain’s interpretation of incoming sensory data is just as constructive and creative as the next step; creating art itself. Based on this view, neuroscience models of sensory perception turn into tools for creating art, exploiting the transitivity of the property of construction and creation our brain offers to create art. (MIT News) The first product of this cross-disciplinary class is an exhibition called Sensorium visible here: Sensorium The image to the right is titled "depth in waves" and is an inquiry on depth experience in color vision.
An approach originating from the other side of the gap is that of Oscar Muñoz, a Colombian contemporary artist that reacts to Alzheimer’s and other concepts involved with memory and identity. He does not take directly from the tools and products of neuroscience in order to create his art, rather, he bases his works on neuroscience concepts such as forgetting one’s identity through Alzheimer’s, changing identity across time, and the psychological effects that war and trauma have on individuals and whole cities (Sicardi). Without technological advances that facilitate brain imaging and artistic photographing, along with more general field advances that have furthered our understanding of neurodegenerative diseases; Oscar’s contemporary art would perhaps lack the roots of inquiry that provide its deep foundation and would not attract as much attention from the academic realms.
A final example that demonstrates the presence of neuroscientific advances in art and vice versa is the exhibition Landscapes of the Mind: Contemporary Artists Contemplate the Brain.
In this exhibition ,set in Williams College Museum of Art, the four contemporary artists Susan Aldworth (British, b. 1955), Andrew Carnie (British, b. 1957), Jessica Rankin (Australian, b. 1971), and Katy Schimert (American, b. 1963) use a variety of mediums to represent and express their understanding of internal processes of the brain such as the differentiation and generation of neurons, consciousness of self, intuition and interpretation (WMCA).
Although brief, I hope this blogpost shows how closely related Art and Neuroscience can be and how they influence each other reciprocally, both motivating us to delve deeper into our inner world of the brain and external world of creative expression and perception. “Both artists and scientists strive to see the world in new ways, and to communicate that vision.” (Forbes)