Gustav Klimt and Neuroscience
February 11, 2019 5:33 AM   Subscribe

“The purpose of a scientific approach to art is not to take the mystery out of the art. It’s to give you new insight into why you think it’s so wonderful and mysterious.” Klimt, Kokoschka, Schiele appeals to something other than just our interest in art. It’s our interest in our own feelings and memories of experiences they ignite.
posted by Yellow (3 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
you ain't fooling me. they said the same thing about jesus.

Nah. This is really cool. Didn't know this about Klimt. Makes me think of George Seurat.
posted by es_de_bah at 7:53 AM on February 11, 2019

A while back I read a snarky comment somewhere about middle aged women who all have a copy of Klimt's The Kiss, tucked into their places of residence. When my oldest daughter first went to work while in high school, with her first paycheck, she bought me a 2'X3' nicely framed copy of The Kiss. This was spontaneous on her part, and such a beloved act! I see this every day! He had the most ravishing sense of the surface of things. The sumptuous, golden, seemingly honeyed, lavish, patterned people in a golden light, with the scene swimming all around them...gets me every time.
posted by Oyéah at 9:34 AM on February 11, 2019 [5 favorites]

By odd coincidence I just finished reading Kandel's 2016 book Reductionism in Art and Brain Science: Bridging the Two Cultures a couple weeks ago. It was was better than many of the other articles and books I've read trying explain art through neuroscience, but like most of those others ends up saying much less about art than the science. The explanations of how we perceive and understand visual information is nicely presented and tied to examples of, mostly, abstract art to define different notions of reduction in the process of seeing and creating art. But Kandel's ideas of art and what neuroscience might bring to it aren't nearly as compelling, and are often more just left for conjecture.

Like many other works on the subject, the need to try and bring art under the discipline of brain science is never made compelling in its own terms. Art hasn't needed such a rationale before and doesn't need it now in those kinds of terms, which isn't to say art and science haven't been partnered many times before to often beneficial end, but each on their own terms, not as one defining the other. It perhaps isn't fair to say Kandel is attempting to do that exactly since he would certainly say otherwise, but he comes to art via his expertise in neuroscience and proceeds as if the latter made him expert in the former in ways that don't quite follow, even as he is nothing if not appreciative of the work artists do in its own right, unlike many others in Kandel's field.

I don't want to sound like I'm knocking Kandel, the link, or his book, they're all enjoyable enough, but the claims over the value of neuroscience for understanding art have been, so far, greatly exaggerated. Art used as a way to better explain brain functions, among the many other similar uses its been put to, is perfectly sensible and sometimes fascinating, but it scarcely brushes the surface of what art is in its own right and how it works, or doesn't, for people.
posted by gusottertrout at 1:19 AM on February 12, 2019

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