[-empyre-] neuroaesthetics - terms, fields and frameworks

Michele Barker M.Barker at unsw.edu.au
Wed Sep 24 21:19:28 EST 2008

I think both Barbara and Johannes' responses are very timely and  
pertinent at this point.  I'd like to start with a few and will leave  
the rest for some of the people mentioned.

Johannes Birringer wrote:
> The relation of neuroaesthetics (which is not an art practice or a  
> new syntax of forms, is it?  a style or a signature? a method or  
> interactive "architecture" or participatory process? Warholian?  
> intended or designed?  by whom, applied to what genre or form or  
> mode of interaction or reception?  are you all implying there is  
> such a thing as neuroaesthetics? why do you believe so?)

Barbara Maria Stafford wrote:
> i confess that i have a problem with the concept of neuroaesthetics  
> as a "field" or one more ism among many others. as andie murphie  
> mentioned it was coined by zeki and ramachandran. but i want to  
> underline that it is specifically identified with concepts of brain  
> modularity: that certain areas are dedicated to specific types of  
> processing: well, yes and no as the discussions of brain plasticity  
> have brought out.
> there are many camps in the neurosciences, of which the brain  
> modularity group constitutes one. but that's not my concern here.  
> it's do we want to establish a new field  called "neuroaesthetics"-- 
> or are we, or some of us, engaged in  a different project: asking  
> more broadly, how can cultural surfaces [past or present] be seen  
> more richly by virtue of new data coming out of the neurosciences?

I take on Barbara's concern about the idea of a "field" and with  
hindsight would suggest that the term neuroaethetics - both from its  
neuroscientific origins and its artistic/humanities rethinking - is a  
framework for thinking through a variety of issues. I don't believe it  
is about visualisation tools, nor processes of collaboration per se,  
although these things certainly have a significant place in this. Nor  
do I believe it is about a method (interactive, participatory) however  
I am also aware that much of this debate around art practice has  
focused on new media practices. In addition to Zeki and Ramachandran,  
it really has been the work and writing of artist Warren Neidich that  
has brought this mode of enquiry to the fore in recent years.  
Interestingly, Neidich's practice is, well, very analogue; drawing,  
montage, photography and installation (see his monograph "Blow:Up:  
Photography, Cinema and the Brain")

Just as an aside, I wonder if the "aesthetics" in the term will  
potentially prove to be the problem.

Barbara also suggests:

> since i've spent much of my career also thinking about the varieties  
> of imaging and visualization strategies, am concerned about certain  
> developments in brain imaging--as outlined by joseph dumitt re.  
> fmri.but not only is it problematic to talk about "portraits" of the  
> brain in action. there's also the issue of automaticity in image  
> processing, manipulating, storing, coloring and the conclusions that  
> are drawn from this automatic sorting and interpreting of  
> differently scaled data. one can also ask what are the cognitive  
> differences between expert and "ordinary" perception? what role is  
> played by communities of practice?

On this point, I wonder Barbara, do you think that the technologies  
and information available to artists currently are useful in  
contributing to the ongoing debate on cognition or are they, in fact,  
potentially producing more reductivist and didactic works as a result?

- michele

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