Don't forget the artists when studying perception of art

Martin Kemp in Books & Arts (Nature 461, 882–883; 2009) suggests using functional neuroimaging to study the viewing and reception of artworks. But such direct measures of brain activity allow only for correlations between brain responses and the task of the viewer.

Clinical neuropsychologists have already studied the consequences of brain damage on cognition more directly. Insight into neurocognitive factors underlying art-making has come from, for instance, the effects of dementia on the abstract expressionist William de Kooning (1904–97) and of stroke on the German artists Lovis Corinth (1858–1925) and Otto Dix (1891–1969). Some milder conditions can even enhance productivity and creativity. For example, the metaphysical art of Giorgio de Chirico (1888–1978) may have been inspired by migraine or epilepsy.

Kemp focuses entirely on the beholder, as though — to paraphrase the French philosopher Roland Barthes (Aspen 5–6; 1967) — the birth of the viewer must be at the cost of the death of the artist. However, art historians and neuroscientists also need to take into account the maker and the making of artworks — a collaboration that is successfully being developed in the Swiss Artists-in-Labs programme (

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Blanke, O., Forcucci, L. & Dieguez, S. Don't forget the artists when studying perception of art. Nature 462, 984 (2009).

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