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Monday, March 8, 2010

My Limbic Brain Won’t Let Me Enjoy Modern Art

The human brain has been thought of as made up of three layers that have been laid down as the human brain evolved over millions of years.(The triune brain theory of Paul MacLean –perhaps a kind of psycho/physiological variant of Freuds id, ego and super ego). The most recent, the neocortex emerged with primates.The neocortex is responsible for language, abstract thought and imagination with infinite learning capabilities. The second is the limbic that emerged with the early mammals.The limbic is responsible for our emotions and value judgements (based on previous experience) of agreeable and disagreeable experiences. The oldest part of the brain is the reptilian. This is responsible for breathing, heart rate and other basic functions.
I believe that when people first look at a work of visual art it by-passes the most sophisticated part of the brain the neocortex and reaches the limbic and reptilian parts of the brain. This explains its effect on people in its depth and intensity of like/dislike and how for some people the value judgements they make about visual art and how rigid these judgements can be. No amount of “reason” can change some peoples’ mind about “modern art” for example. It also explains why so much of the writing about visual art is unconvincing once it is described in words ,particularly when the words are lists of superlatives, or any real insight is avoided by writing about the artists’ life struggle/biography This is also why labels are needed in art criticism/history, “mannerism”, ”baroque”, “classicism”, “Impressionism” “Hellenism” “ modernism” and the rest. All of these labels are substitutes for any meaningful dialogue about works of visual art. This kind of approach also fosters the disdain of the “modern” for the “conventional past”
For an aspiring visual artist most of the writing on visual art is useless or worse, a kind of red herring. I have read thousands perhaps hundreds of thousands of words about visual art and very few have given a useful insight into the problems and processes of visual art. What can be done ? I believe the first thing that readers of writers on visual art must realise is that not many visual art writers have actually produced visual art. They are literary people. Second that visual artists of whatever period are faced with more or less the same problems, the shaping of a medium into a visual experience. Our job as producers of visual art is to LOOK. That is; NOT to ”be moved”, or to “draw on our stock of historical classifications” etc.

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