October 24, 2020

The pleasure of art for our brain | Culture


Eight human figures hunting on stone. This is, so far, the oldest known work of art. It is dated at least 43,900 years ago. At that time, Upper Paleolithic, the Homo sapiens It stretched across Europe and left hundreds of human-shaped figurines carved in bone or wood or sculpted in clay. Art is an essential part of the human being in a still mysterious and fascinating way for those who seek its base and biological sense. Why and how does the brain create, process and understand art? For centuries there have been many philosophical reflections and scientific approaches; Now the neurosesthetic tries to solve the puzzle.

Although studies on neuroesthetics are earlier, it was not until 2002 that the term was officially adopted. This discipline investigates the interaction between the observation of an artistic object and the mechanisms and brain networks that influence the emotional response to it. “The beauty is a manifestation of the high organization of our neural system and it would not exist without the contest of our brain ”, explains Dr. Juan Carlos Portilla, a member of the Spanish Society of Neurology. The expert lists that there are multiple brain areas that interact during the artistic experience. First, when a picture is observed or a song is heard, a sensory and motor response is produced. The process also involves knowledge and meaning, which depend on the experience, context and culture of each individual. Finally, emotion and appreciation come into play, subject to the reward system that involves pleasure.

The tools that neuroscience uses to analyze these situations are mainly neurophysiology and neuroimaging, especially the functional one, which allows the spectacle of the brain to be seen working live. Portilla details that in the existing studies it has been observed how the zones associated with reward and pleasure are activated in response to an artistic stimulus, and the circuits that set in motion those areas may vary depending on the sensory type: visual, auditory, and so on. That is, our brain enjoys a beautiful painting as well as a plate of delicious food.

This fact brings consequences. “There is more and more evidence of the physical benefits and the general state of health with which artistic perception and creative processes are associated, there are even projects that specifically assess these benefits,” says the neurologist. Thus, some studies link artistic practice with the development of greater brain plasticity, in addition to psychological benefits. For these reasons, art is used as a therapeutic complement in numerous ailments: Alzheimer’s music or plastic arts to control anxiety.

The artistic experience produces “a well-being” in the person, be it creator or simply spectator, a gain that Portilla, clarifies, cannot be separated from the cultural aspects: “Although there are some common cerebral mechanisms of response to an artistic object, the cultural influence and the individual relationship with the observed object are determining ”.

The benefits multiply when we talk about children. “Taking into account the complex brain mechanisms that come into play during creative processes, stimulating participation in the development of these processes facilitates better brain function and better connectivity development between the different brain areas and functions involved. Functions such as attention, memory, visuospatial ability, etc. are directly associated with the processes of artistic creation ”, lists the neurologist.

Artistic education

Chema Messiah, professor and author of the book knows it well Sensitive Art Education. His speech enhances the teaching of art in schools, but clarifies that “if the approach is bad, tedious for students”, better dispense with it. Messiah has devised a system for educational centers that focuses on “proximity practices” based on three points: contemporary art, the classroom as a laboratory and “the resident artists”.


Messiah students developed igloos with plastic bags, an installation around climate change that they showed at the María Pita square in A Coruña.



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Messiah students developed igloos with plastic bags, an installation around climate change that they showed at the María Pita square in A Coruña.

“Children live today, their environment, for them contemporary art is more natural than classic, they come to him without prejudice,” the teacher justifies his first foundation. Attracted by the novelty, Messiah instills in them the normalization of failure in the experimentation process. The class is a safe trial and error environment. “We also try to bring some young artist to break the conception of consecrated genius, we invite you to inhabit the space, to live and develop projects with teachers and students,” he concludes. He insists that it is not about resident artists – “because that may mean that they only sleep in one space” – but that they must establish collaborative projects with students and teachers.

This project manages to create a link between children and art that endures over time thanks to an intense aesthetic experience. It is at that time that children “assimilate” art in their lives and “the teaching is worth it.” The professor clarifies that it is not about creating artists, but about working in a different language that allows them to express themselves, without reducing it to sentimentality: “They develop an aesthetic sensibility and this activates a different way of seeing life, of putting oneself in the place of another and open to places, individuals and cultures, generates critical and socially committed people. ”

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