Are We Wired for Beauty?

Flamenco by Ann Trusty, oil painting, 48 x 60.
Flamenco by Ann Trusty, oil painting, 48 x 60.

The science community is busy investigating the mechanisms and processes by which people are able to perceive the world around them and make visual sense of it. There are many basic questions still to be answered. For example, a six-year-old possesses the mundane ability to distinguish things that are out-of-place at a glance-something the most powerful computers can’t do. How does the brain interpret a vast amount of seemingly unrelated visual stimuli and cohere a picture of the world from it? Is it just in the immense amount of neuronal (yep, it’s a word) connections or their interrelated connectivity, the sum of all individual specialized functions adding up to a greater whole?

Current research points to the possibility that the latter is the case. Simply wiring up an immense network of computers won’t do the job. It is how the information gathering and processing parts relate to each other and at the same time to the whole system that gives us our unique ability to be sentient. No computer can do this now nor likely will be able to in the near future. Scientists are pursuing a parallel track of visual investigations to those that many artists are. Science wants to understand the general mechanism of human perception, while artists are more interested in expressing the essence of those perceptions about the world. More often than not, artists are inspired to express beauty in their work.

A child is also able to perceive beauty, something that may never be possible with a computer brain. After all, what is beauty? Would it ever be possible to take a massive poll and have a supercomputer distill the data down to a definition of beauty with which everyone would agree? If we could define it then would it, like Art, cease to be?

Glories by Ann Trusty, oil painting, 30 x 40.

Each one of us has a slightly different, personal “beauty register,” yet, generally speaking, people are able to recognize an artist’s personal expression of beauty in art, and be moved by it. But try to describe a beautiful painting, event, piece of music or sunset with language, and the magic is easily lost in a laundry list of individual parts.

Apparently, the use of language must itself be beautiful to communicate beauty effectively. Poetry and some exceptionally inspired and sensitively written prose are able to achieve that quality. So it would seem that the perception of beauty is created by the interrelationship of all the parts of something, be it a painting, dance, concerto, or poem, to each other, as well as to the whole. In order to create a beautiful work of art, the organizational structure of all the parts must be as beautiful as the work itself.

This so precisely mimics the structure and organization of the brain that we must conclude that we are wired for beauty. Why? What survival advantage does this give us? Would sentience eventually lead to despair without it? Why do we need to make art? Leave a comment-we’d love to hear your comments.

To read more in-depth articles, please join us on The Artist’s Road.

–Ann & John

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About John Hulsey and Ann Trusty

John Hulsey and his wife, Ann Trusty created the website, The Artist's Road - Painting the World's Beautiful Places.  The Artist's Road inspires with practical art tips and painting techniques for the traveling artist, video painting tutorials and demonstrations, workshop resources, artist profiles and interviews and remarkable painting locations.  The Artist's Road is an artist community for oil, watercolor and pastel artists.  Articles cover intriguing art travel experiences artists have had while painting the world's beautiful places. "I believe I must speak through my art, for the preservation of Nature and the natural landscape from which I take my inspiration and living." John Hulsey is an accomplished artist, author and teacher who has been working professionally for over thirty years. In addition to producing new work for exhibition and teaching workshops, Mr. Hulsey continues to write educational articles about painting for national art magazines, including Watercolor magazine and American Artist Magazine. He has been selected as a "Master Painter of the United States" by International Artist Magazine where his work was previously chosen to be included in the top ten of their international landscape painting competition. He was awarded residencies at Yosemite, Glacier and Rocky Mountain National Parks. "I strive in my art to celebrate the mysteries of Nature - the fleeting light on the landscape, the unimaginable diversity of creatures, the beauty of each leaf and flower." Ann Trusty  is an accomplished third generation artist whose work embodies the natural world and is created through direct observation and translation of her subjects into her paintings. She has found inspiration in the dancing light across the water of the Hudson River (where she had a studio for ten years), as well as the big sky and waving tall grasses of the open plains of the Midwest (her current home). Her work has been exhibited throughout the United States, France and Turkey in both museum and gallery exhibitions, and has been reviewed favorably by the New York Times.

4 thoughts on “Are We Wired for Beauty?

  1. Thank you for this thought provoking article.
    The human brain is spectacular by being able to compute numbers, communicate, create, remember, respond to others, and much much more. The human brain is also complex and flawed. On one hand, we can get into a situation in which we are in a meditative trance-like state when we are in the flow of creation. On the other hand, we can zone out into lala land. The human brain is exceptionally powerful, but can easily misperceive optical illusions, misunderstand information, lack spatial reasoning, be less powerful or intelligent compared to others. It can also get sick, have strokes and your abilities would be permanently altered if something happened to certain areas of your brain. All of this plus our environment, experiences, the weather, etc impact what we create. Our totality of everything and anything effects and affects our art. Our ability to enjoy and appreciate art also comes from this totality of our being.

    What allows us to see and appreciate beauty is also what keeps us from seeing and experiencing beauty – our brain and our perceptions. Create a beautiful piece of art or create a bad piece of art and you will recognize that it is you who birthed this work. There will always be some who prefer the magical and poetic view of the creative process – usually it is only when the art is good. Others will only accept the provable truth. Some of us just create art because it is part of our daily habit. Even if art is fully defined scientifically, it will always be endeavored and appreciated. “Even if you understand how and engine works, you can still enjoy the ride.”

    I would be interested in any reference you have as to science being done on creativity.

  2. I completely agree. That is my motivation in all my crafts and painting. I need to
    Make something beautiful just for myself. It is not so i can sell them my mind
    Consantly is demanding it. julianne mason

  3. I completely agree. That is my motivation in all my crafts and painting. I need to
    Make something beautiful just for myself. It is not so i can sell them my mind
    Consantly is demanding it. julianne mason

  4. When I create without any other motive than to bring an idea from my head/heart out into physical expression the emotive quality is perceived by the viewer. When this occurs, it in turn brings further joy to me. Beautiful!