November 26 - December 2, 2012

Neuroscience - the scientific study of the nervous system - is an expansive field, and one that has been increasingly paired with other scientific disciplines, and, of late, several disciplines outside of chemical and biological science.  In addition to neurochemistry and neuropsychology, there are the fields of neuroethics (combining neurology and morality), neuroeconomics (which studies decision-making through the lens of neurology with practical implications in economics), and neuroarchitecture, among many other burgeoning disciplines.   

Neuroarchitecture explores the relationship between neuroscience and architectural design, or how our bodies react to the spaces we inhabit.  The theory behind this field of study is that there is a connection between the environments we create and the performance of the brain or of the body.  According to the website for the Academy of Neuroscience of Architecture, connecting the two fields could lead to better hospitals, schools, offices, and places of worship, as people occupying these spaces “will have their environments more carefully tuned to their needs and desires.” 

Neuroaesthetics, another relatively recent field of study, is the scientific study of neural bases for the contemplation and creation of art (and music).  Because neuroscience is a hard science (“aesthetics” is considered a branch of philosophy) and yet so easily applies to human behavior, it has a certain appeal for aestheticians and art critics, who seek to make objective analyses of creative works.  By accepting the premise that our brains are what give art meaning, these people hope to search within the physiological to find the root of perception.

Regardless of what merits this approach to examining art does or does not have, the fact remains that neuroscience has provided a sort of bridge between hard, scientific fact, and that elusive quality: beauty.  While architects examine the potential humanitarian benefits to be mined from our neurological responses to designed environments, and while critics search for patterns of aesthetic perception, artists themselves seem also to have become enamored with the science of the brain.   

For example, Victoria Vesna, of the UCLA Art Sci Center, has created a multimedia installation entitled “Mood Swings” which projects the viewer’s body onto a large screen, where the body is translated into “particles” which shift, changing color and sound, based on the viewer’s motions, in order to influence the viewer’s perception and emotional state.  Another artist, Greg Dunn, makes beautiful Asian-style paintings of neurons and other brain structures.  Still others experiment with music intended to reflect or create certain neurological responses.  

This trend is fascinating in that it seems to reflect a desire on the part of artists to delve deeper, even down to a molecular level, into the social and emotional aspects of being human.  Rather than helping to maintain a strict dichotomy between science and the arts/humanities, neuroscience has allowed for art and science to become collaborative partners - a partnership which arguably has the potential to revitalize our understanding of how and why the arts are an important aspect of human development.