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What is it that makes a work of art appear to us as beautiful? How do external form and internal perception coalesce to create the distinctive aesthetic pleasures we look to find in the visual arts? In Inner Vision, one of the founders of visual neuroscience, Semir Zeki, offers the first attempt to apply the science of vision to painting and sculpture, revealing how the conception, execution, and appreciation of the visual arts are all shaped by the anatomy of the brain.
Using a range of examples from artists including Rembrandt, Vermeer, Magritte, Mondrian, and Picasso, Zeki takes the reader on an illuminating tour of the way the brain sees, showing how its visual processing shapes art and our response to it. Vision, he writes, is designed to gather knowledge about the world around us, breaking down visual images into their basic components. He describes in fascinating detail how different areas of the brain respond to the basic visual elements, such as color, form, line, and motion, which are also basic elements of art. He further argues that all visual art is expressed through the brain and, whether the artist realizes it or not, must therefore mirror the workings of the brain. Beauty may not be in the eye of the beholder, strictly speaking, but it most certainly is in the brain of the beholder. And Zeki argues that no theory of aesthetics will be complete unless it is substantially based on the activity of the brain.
Beautifully illustrated and vividly written, Inner Vision takes an important first step toward providing a scientific theory of aesthetics.
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Why do we find it hard to explain why art is beautiful? Perhaps it is because the visual system of the human brain is much more developed than its language centers, as it has had far longer--millions of years--to evolve. Semir Zeki believes that we can only reach a better understanding of art as we learn more about the operations of the visual brain.
Zeki demonstrates that the simple act of seeing is a profoundly artistic activity. Separating out the mass of geometrical and spectral information received through the eye to arrive at a visual perception is a complex and creative process. Zeki traces the functional similarities of the artist and the seeing brain. "Just as the brain searches for constancies and essentials," Zeki writes, "so does art.... It is those attributes of vision [to which] the brain has assigned specialised processing systems ... that have primacy in art. Among those one can include colour, form, motion, faces, facial expressions and even body language."
Zeki's examples are varied and convincing. For example, he explores the relationship between modern works that have emphasized lines and the reaction of cells in the brain that work on lines of specific orientation. More ambitiously, he even outlines the neurological bases of Fauvism and Cubism!
T.S. Eliot said that using language to discuss art was "a raid on the inarticulate, with shabby equipment." In Inner Vision, that pejorative statement acquires a heroic mantle: no artist worth the name and no one who enjoys visual beauty can afford to ignore the insights contained in this book. --Simon Ings, Amazon.co.ukAbout the Author:
Semir Zeki is a research scientist at the Wellcome Cognitive Neurology Unit of the University College, London. An eminent neurologist, he is the author of the popular A Vision of the Brain. He lives in the United Kingdom.
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