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.
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.
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--John and Ann