Filed under: Art
Have you ever wondered why, when you gaze upon a painting or house or human body, you like it? The expression "whatever turns you on" – ever thought about how? These are the questions Zeki has been tasked to answer, though perhaps in higher-minded form. He is hunting for beauty's exact location in the brain. "In a year's time," he says, "I might be able to tell you it exists for sure and it lies in the activation of these areas [as he points to his forehead]."
But, the professor has some work to do first.
The grant, by the Wellcome Trust in London, is intended to finance his expedition inside the walls of the skull, as he searches for the mechanism that makes the mind perceive beauty.
Zeki agrees with philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre in asserting that the act of seeing is not a passive process. This has been confirmed by MRI scans, which show that information seen is separated immediately and shot off to different parts of the brain. Color is processed before form before motion. Landscapes, still lifes and portraits are appreciated in different parts of the gray matter, as well. Then, all these feelings are all brought back together into a mental mixture that results in a feeling toward a particular piece.
Of course, some may not be thrilled with Zeki's work. "Art critics might feel threatened by some of this," he explains. "They may not like the fact that I could say to you that I know that most people will respond to the beauty of the human figure when it is painted in a particular way because of the way receptors are distributed."
[Photo: Painting by Benjamin Krell]