How would you define a beautiful piece of artwork?
Would you say, “It takes years to study aesthetic in art!” or ask, “Is appreciating a simple orange utterly different than judging a masterpiece of artwork?”
Debating what is beautiful can be sometimes hazardous. I often got myself into serious arguments with curators of the “modern art establishment connoisseur”.
I am a painter, but also a physicist, so I believe in facts. In this science abstract, the results showed that the most important part of the brain for aesthetic appraisal was the anterior insula: a part of the brain that sits within one of the deep folds of the cerebral cortex. When we read deep in the cerebral cortex, that means we are dealing with the very basics: eating, drinking and reproduction.
Ouch! I see a masterpiece…
The anterior insula is typically associated with emotions of NEGATIVE quality, such as disgust and pain, making it an unusual candidate for being the brain’s “aesthetic center.” Hence, the most reasonable hypothesis is that the aesthetic system of the brain evolved first for the appraisal of objects of biological importance: is this good food or what about this nice suitable mate…. Then, later in our evolution, we started to ask: is this object bad or good for me? This study shows that we came to use this part of our primitive brain to judge artworks such as paintings and music.
Being a classical painter, my quest for beauty is an endless one, just like yours I believe. This study explains the gut feeling I have when I see a remarkable work of art, hear a beautiful music piece or witness a dazzling sunset.
However, I had no idea how instinctive and primal this process is. I kind of believed that art was an acquired taste. Before this article, I believed there was a need to educate people to make them sensitive to our world. As much as philosophers of modern art like to believe, our brains does not contain a specialized system for the appreciation of artworks. Research suggests that our brain’s responses to a piece of cake and to A BEAUTIFUL CLASSICAL artwork are in fact quite similar.
The next time I hear experts telling me that classical art is only good for decorating walls and that they’d prefer an abstract piece over, say, the Mona Lisa… I will have my doubts.