[-empyre-] Neuroaesthetics

Michele Barker M.Barker at unsw.edu.au
Fri Sep 5 08:55:13 EST 2008

Thanks everyone

I'd like to start with a point that Paul made:

> Yesterday when we were  (Alan and Paul ) talking together in  
> response to some of the initial dialogue we thought that for us,  as  
> artists,  there appears to be two important questions to be asked 1)  
> when you talk about the brain , what brain are you talking about? - 
> since we don't know what the brain is as a totality  and 2)  what  
> language of "picturing" are we going to use- ?  Much of our work has  
> used the notion of index as a means of picturing (indicating / 
> tracing ) phenomena- There are many ways to do this -some which have  
> definite practical purposes and could lead to important discoveries  
> - others which are about the invention of new methods of  
> visualization which construct new worlds.

I do see it as particularly pertinent to the initial stages of this  
discussion as I think it has the potential for setting up a framework  
for how we consider neuro activities in relationship to art creation  
and art experience (rather than viewing). Much of *visual* art  
naturally dictates a visual response but as can be seen through the  
work that EBP are doing – Electronic Voice Phenomenon, for example,  
which is a more combinatory approach to sensorial information – can be  
a way of encouraging a more multi-faceted response from an audience.  
Much neuroscience certainly acknowledges that whilst the brain does  
not just exist in the cranium, how it functions through the entirety  
of the body, particularly in relation to perception, is open (or not)  
to debate. At the same time, your Ghosts in the Machine project  
appears to illicit a formed pictorial response - in the shape of a  
face - where one doesn't actually exist.

As Alan says:
> They are not images of people, but another kind of image loaded with  
> meaning, which arises accidentally, but irresistibly and inevitably,  
> from the hybrid interaction between machine and body and world. To  
> all intents and purposes when these patches of pixels look like  
> faces, they are images of faces. That such obscure images resolve  
> themselves into faces without conscious effort, and that remain even  
> when attending closely to them, suggests that it is paradoxically  
> their lack of objective meaning that generates their form. It is the  
> very ambiguity and intedeterminacy of the images that allows the  
> brain to reconfigure them as indexical.

Making sense of the indexical figures strongly in EBP's work and here  
I also think of your earlier work The Shapes of Thought. In this work  
the visual outcomes are more abstract but when tied, for example, to  
the premise of 'this is what anger *could* look like', they become  
something very tangible.

It leads me to thinking about something that John said in  
*NeuroArtHistory* concerning the research of Semir Zeki. In your book  
John, you quote Zeki from his *Inner Vision: An exploration of Art and  
the Brain*, as saying that whilst forming his premise for the  
relationship between art processes, thinking, making or viewing:  “It  
is almost impossible to say anything beyond the most general about the  
relationship between brain physiology and the perception of some of  
the more complex, narrative and representational works…” p191.  
Interestingly, the approach of media arts is, I would argue, at the  
more complex, narrative and representational end.

Zeki also, as you have noted John, kept away from the emotional  
processes within the work of art which in 1999 he deemed too difficult  
to deal with. Since he wrote *Inner Vision*, a lot more research has  
been done in various visualisation based-fields - eg  functional  
magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) - and the ability to ‘map’ emotional  
states.  Perhaps it's time for a rethink around these issues of  
emotional response and the brain? Would any of you agree/disagree?


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