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Art and the brain

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Abstract:

The article defines the function of the visual brain as a search for constancies with the aim of obtaining knowledge about the world, and claims that it is applicable with equal vigour to the function of art. We define the general function of art as a search for the constant, lasting, essential, and enduring features of objects, surfaces, faces, situations, and so on, which allows us not only to acquire knowledge about the particular object, or face, or condition represented on the canvas but to generalize, based on that, about many other objects and thus acquire knowledge about a wide category of objects or faces. In this process, the artist must also be selective and invest his work with attributes that are essential, discarding much that is superfluous. It follows that one of the functions of art is an extension of the major function of the visual brain. Indeed, philosophers and artists often spoke about art in terms that are extremely similar to the language that a modern neurobiologist of vision would use, except that he would substitute the word ‘brain’ for the word ‘artist.’

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Wellcome Department of Cognitive Neurology, University College, London.

Publication date: 1999-06-01

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