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Label: brain

Wednesday 25th June 2014Art and Your Brain

Recently during my regularly-scheduled browse through the deep dark wonders of the world of internet-based news, I ran across an article that was entitled 'Our Brains Are Made for Enjoying Art'. Supposedly, something in the way our brains had evolved made us wired to appreciate art, and this had somehow been proven in a recent meta-study (for those of you unaware, a meta-study is a study that looks at the results of other studies - a study of studies, in other words). Intrigued, I clicked through, and discovered that what had actually happened was the laziest kind of art journalism.
Art and science fascinate the public, and rightly so - they are the pinnacles of the capacities of the human mind. The problem, of course, comes from the fact that those same people are so desensitised by the media that every headline has to be attention-grabbing in order to succeed, regardless of whether or not it actually deserves to. As a result, we wind up with journalism about art and science that is often written by people who don't understand either of these things, but rather focused on getting headlines.

It doesn't really take a genius to figure out that something fishy is going on with this story, however. Art is inherently an abstraction, after all - not capital-a Abstract, but rather inherently a representation of something else. Even the most perfectly accurate photo is, as Magritte taught us with his famous pipe, simply a representation of the thing photographed. Even as we have evolved to appreciate various elements of the world around us, and the concepts and symbolic ideas that can truly be said to be innately human creations, it should be no surprise that we react similarly to the representations of those things.

In other words, saying that our brains evolved to appreciate art is similarly inane to saying that we evolved to appreciate the world around us. Of course we did. The problem is one of causality, and that's something that lazy journalism often gets wrong, frustratingly more and more frequently in the age of viral memetics and rapid information sharing. The difference, of course, is that the world was here long before we were, whereas art is a creation of ours. We can't possibly have evolved to adapt to one of our own creations, as we haven't been making art long enough. Perhaps in a hundred thousand years…

Posted on June 25th 2014 on 05:38pm
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