How neuroscience explains the emotions we feel in front of a work of art

How neuroscience explains the emotions we feel in front of a work of art

We discussed it with the neuroscientist Vittorio Gallese, between empathy and mirror neurons, parallel worlds and digital reality. A long-standing relationship between art, human beings and science which will also be discussed at the Festival dei due mondi in Spoleto

A wall drawing by the exponent of conceptual art Sol LeWitt (1928-2007) at the Carandente museum in Spoleto (photo: Wikimedia Commons) Whether it is a painting, a symphony or a film, it does not matter: when we are faced with an art form, as long as it is well done, our brain and our body react to its communicative power, with mechanisms that we have all experienced but that neuroscience is still investigating and trying to fully understand.

We talked about it for Wired with Vittorio Gallese, professor of psychobiology at the University of Parma and discoverer together with colleagues of mirror neurons , the motor cells of the brain that are fundamental to explain empathy, not only towards the gestures and actions of another person but also towards a piece of music or a work of art. Precisely about the relationship between art and science, two apparently distant worlds but in reality united by perceptual and emotional links, Gallese will speak on Sunday 27 June in the final event of the 64th edition of the Festival dei due mondi in Spoleto, within the Art path & Science into Spoleto conceived by the Carla Fendi Foundation to mirror the artistic culture with the scientific one, starting with the works of the artists Sol LeWitt and Anna Mahler.

Vittorio Gallese, his research has focused on the neuro foundation -biological and on the brain mechanisms underlying language and aesthetics. What historical roots does the relationship between art and emotions have?

“The term art is very recent, historically definable, and more than art I would speak of parallel worlds. One of the figures of the human being is that the physical world is not enough for us: not only are we obsessed with creating and telling stories, but we have evidence of expressions of human art since we have historical testimony. The Paleolithic paintings of 25-30 thousand years ago, for example, but even further back with the findings of Blombos, near Cape Town in South Africa, with a block of ocher with geometric inscriptions dated about 75 thousand years ago. And perhaps even more ancient are the shells found in Java, Indonesia, an expression of primitive symbolic art ".

What is the link and the link between art and aesthetic experience, between artistic expression and neuroscience?

"The job I do, namely the cognitive scientist with a particular focus on the human mind and physiological substrates, brain and brain-body, led me to believe that a central theme to deal with is parallel worlds and their connection with aesthetics. The very definition of aesthetics is very ancient but also very modern: aisthesis, precisely aesthetics, is the knowledge of the world through bodily sensitivity. The concept also applies to abstract art, to Lucio Fontana's cuts or to Franz Kline's dynamic brushstrokes, because even when we have representations and forms that have nothing to do with the human face, an inter-subjective relationship is still created between those who look at the work and the artist who created it ”.

Vittorio Gallese (photo: Wikimedia Commons) In what sense can a relationship be created between user and artist?

"Simulating the gesture that produced that image. This is what Adolf von Hildebrand actually said at the end of the nineteenth century: one of the most powerful things that art can do is to arouse in the viewer the recreation of the very act of creating the work. This means - and here we move from aesthetics to science - being able to look at art from the point of view of empathy and embodiment, that is, of the incarnation. It is a theme on which in 2007 I published a study that wanted to be a map to guide the subsequent research: after another 14 years of studies on the visual arts and on cinema as an empathic screen, I am convinced it is a duty that neuroscience deals with what we commonly call art, or which more properly includes all forms of symbolic-creative expression ".

And where are we today with these researches in the neuroscientific field?

"The first decisive step was to use the same tools of neuroscience and more generally the scientific approach to address the issue, imagining questions and trying to answer them about art and cinema. The pioneers of this trend, such as Semir Zeki, have already concentrated their research activity since the end of the 1990s, looking for the neurological basis of two concepts that recur when it comes to art: the beautiful and the sublime. The areas of the brain that are activated corresponding to the beautiful and the sublime have been found, and they are the same - but different from each other - regardless of whether it is a painting, listening to a piece of music or the vision of a ' mathematical equation.

"With my group, in particular, we focused more on the theme of experience, trying to combine the fruition of art with neuroscientific investigation, to understand how it is substantiated from the point of view of the body the sensitive experience of a painting or a film. And it was understood that an important element of the relationship with artistic works, but also with particular objects, religious stimuli and cohesive elements of a social group, is empathy, feeling what the object transmits. However, this does not exhaust the theme of aesthetic experience, which is a polyhedron with many faces and also includes the moment of evaluation and judgment ".

What conclusions have been drawn?

“The most important thing is that we don't see only with the visual part of the brain. The experience we have is something synaesthetic, multimodal: when I look at the world or anything that is active, both the emotional, tactile and motor parts, in addition to the visual part. Vision is not only the visual part of the brain, and so the aesthetic relationship with works of art is not mediated only by the cognitive and linguistic part of the mind, but there is also an empathic involvement. For example, when I see the finger of St. Thomas that is inserted into the wound of Christ in a painting by Caravaggio, even if it is a static and two-dimensional representation, tactile areas of the brain are activated. In technical terms we speak of embodied simulation, a process that is the basis of aesthetic involvement. In short, there are conditions that create specific brain mechanisms and activations, and in this it is important not to confuse the concept of the physical world with that of the real world. Because even what is not physical can be real ".

So, in essence, an aesthetic experience, or even a digital dimension, can become part of the real world?

"For some years we have known that the brain and body mechanisms that are activated when we are confronted with a non-physical world, but with a two-dimensional representation and even more with a virtual reality, are very similar to those of the world physicist himself. There are studies conducted at the German University of Tübingen that show how mirror neurons in the macaque are activated both if you grab an object and if you see the same action reproduced on the computer screen, with half of the neurons responding with the same intensity. and the rest at lower intensity. There is only one reality: that of experience. The body is one, we have experiences and these can be stimulated by the encounter with the physical world or with that of cinema or art.

"It has long been debated whether the emotions created by art are real emotions. When I see a beautiful painting, when I listen to La traviata by Giuseppe Verdi, mine are hardly emotions or almost tears, but genuine emotions and tears. Often when you have aesthetic experiences you are stationary, sitting or standing, and therefore there is freedom from the burden of being alerted by the unpredictability of the real world. Immobility enhances these mechanisms and puts them at the service of the particular experience of aesthetics ".

The mural inspired by the exponent of conceptual art Sol LeWitt installed on the facade of the Caio Melisso Theater in Spoleto on the occasion of the festival Do you think that digital is changing these mechanisms so deeply rooted in our history and in our culture?

"With digital, which is changing the world, we live like never before in an aesthetic world: the digital revolution combined with globalization has aestheticized the world, it was already talked about ten years ago but with stress pandemic test today is much more evident. We have always had parallel worlds, but digital is now eating slices of the physical world, with an impact on the style of interpersonal relationships, on the way of forming opinions and on the processes of disintermediation. Topics on which we held a series of seminars with the University of Parma, all on neuroscience and humanity. Even a politician today builds all communication on aesthetic foundations: a politician in the past would never have spread images with a bacon on the beach, but the new communication codes involve the identification of the politician with the public. The concept is no longer vote me to be like me, but vote me and I will become like you, no longer the voter who aspires to become like the politician, but the politician who conforms to the voter.

"We are technological animals and technology is part of the human. The Tuscan landscape today, for example, is not natural at all, but it is the most artificial that can exist. The difference from the past is that today technology is expressed with the so-called digital mediascape. Each technology leads to changes, each with its own peculiarities. Technology is changing our life and potentially our identity: there is our new digital self. Neuroscience must take these issues and study the mediation of digital, stereo and surround, and also how the size of a screen affects people's reception. These are topics about which we still know very little: it is not just about digital mediation, but also about remediation, because often our relationship with reality is the result of the pre-mediation of what we see online ".

How much of the aesthetic question and parallel worlds can be found in the world of video games? Speaking of mirror neurons, do you share the alarmism about reproducing the actions that are performed by playing in the physical world?

"Video games are an aspect of interactivity, with many misconceptions and excessive demonization. There are scientific studies that demonstrate how digital interactivity and video games develop spatial and mnemonic skills. We have mirror neurons, sure, but that doesn't mean that if kids play a shooter then they go out on the street and kill people. These are crap, also because today the world is much less violent than in the past, and they are boomer talk.

“We need to study these phenomena in a scientific way, without rhetoric or anything else. The disturbing topics are not video games, but the fact that the more time passes, the more research will be allowed only by the major digital stakeholders. Institutions that have the logic of knowledge first and not that of profit are less and less able to withstand the competition of companies like Google and Amazon. And it is an ethical and political risk, rather than linked to technology itself ".

Travel - 24 Jun

Drawing by planting rice

Online Petition Asks Jeff Bezos To Buy Mona Lisa To Eat It

Why Venice risks losing the title of Unesco site once again


Art brain Neuroscience globalData.fldTopic = "Art, brain, Neuroscience"

This opera is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Powered by Blogger.