It's Personal

Any artist who has exhibited their work to the public has probably wondered why a certain fine art oil painting seem to excite people and others don't. Or, why some people love a piece of work and others don't even find it interesting? Often, we come away from such experiences wondering what we did wrong, or feeling that perhaps our work isn't good enough to be appreciated or understood. Of course in the case of a truly flawed work, a little introspection can lead to improvement the next time. But when a work is inspired and seems to have no apparent flaws, this can lead to self doubt, depression or worse. 

Still Life with Lobster by Anne Vallayer-Coster, 1781.
Still Life with Lobster by Anne Vallayer-Coster, 1781.

Recent research into brain function is discovering the mechanisms which govern personal taste, specifically, what process powers aesthetic preferences. This new information should give heart to all artists who have suffered rejection of one sort or another. It all takes place in an area of the brain called the default mode network (DMN), which formerly was thought to be active only during periods of rest and rumination and suppressed when we are actively dealing with the world. 

The research team, led by Edward Vessel of New York University's Center for Brain Imaging, found that the DMN is stimulated when we encounter specific artworks that resonate with our unique sense of self:  "Certain artworks, albeit unfamiliar, may be so well-matched to an individual's unique makeup that they obtain access to the neural substrates concerned with the self – access which other external stimuli do not get."

This activation allows the poem, play, or painting "to interact with the neural processes related to the self, affect them, and possibly even be incorporated into them," the researchers write in the journal, Frontiers in Neuroscience. "This account is consistent with the modern notion that individuals' taste in art is linked with their sense of identity and suggests that DMN activity may serve to signal "self-relevance" in a broader sense than has been thought so far."

In simple terms, this research seems to indicate that people's tastes in art are similar to their tastes in food. Should the chef question his skills if the person who just doesn't like shellfish ignores the wonderful lobster thermidor? 

This information gives strength to the strategy of not placing much importance on a small sample – a single exhibition in a location, say. Tastes in art, like food, can be regional, and the only sensible measure of the actual interest in a work of art can only be obtained by placing one's work in front of the largest audience possible. Fortunately, the Internet gives artists unprecedented access to the entire world. 

Please join us on The Artist's Road for more great articles, artist interviews and unique artist tools.

–John and Ann

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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.

One thought on “It's Personal

  1. Thanks John and Ann. It is great to understand why different viewers will have different interests on the art piece. I paint for some years, and even myself, I change my taste of art from time to time. In the beginning, I appreciate very much on water-colour media and like to paint a lot of physical scene and objects. Time goes by, I try to paint in oil, and note that only oil painting will impress me. The interesting object is no longer the physical one, but some abstracted things in different form and structure. It is amazing, but viewers’ comment tend to change from appreciation to “ok”. It really frustrated!