Academy conference examines how our brains view art & the dynamic interface between art and science


Nobel Laureate Torsten Wiesel among speakers at one-day conference set for November 5

Why are we captivated by the sight of the Mona Lisa's smile? Why does a field of poppies in a Monet painting appear to wave? Though we are not often conscious of it, our appreciation of art is entirely dependent on the organization of visual-image processing in our brains. Our eyes and brain must coordinate in order to perceive line, depth and color, and the aesthetics of art directly reflect brain function and brain specialization.

It takes science, then, to understand art, and both disciplines require creativity and a thirst for knowledge. To explore how our brains process art and reveal how the collaboration between artists and scientists can yield innovation in many areas of inquiry, the New York Academy of Sciences and the Science & the Arts at The Graduate Center of the City University of New York will present a one-day conference, Visual Art and the Brain: At the Interface of Art and Science, on Nov 5, 2005 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. The meeting will take place at the Harold M. Proshansky Auditorium, CUNY Graduate Center, 365 Fifth Avenue, New York.

Led by esteemed neuroscientist Torsten Wiesel, who received the 1981 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine (along with David H. Hubel) for discoveries concerning the processing of information in the visual system, the meeting will bring together noted artists and scientists who will examine the nature of the science-art interface; the impact of collaborations between artists and scientists; and how art can be used to illustrate the beauty and power of science as well as inspire discussions on the ethical and social aspects of research.

"In the last forty years, our understanding of the visual system and the many factors that have subtle and profound effects on visual perception have expanded very rapidly," said Rashid Shaikh, the Academy's Director of Programs. "The conference will include a discussion of the state of knowledge in those areas and include sessions focusing on artists who take inspiration from science and scientists' reactions to art as a means to further understand the structures of the brain that influence behavior."

Among the speakers are:


  • Suzanne Anker, Visual Artist and Chair, Fine Arts Department, School of Visual Arts. She is the co-author of The Molecular Gaze: Art in the Genetic Age

  • Margaret Livingstone, professor of neurobiology at Harvard Medical School. Author of Vision and Art: The Biology of Seeing.

  • David Freedberg, professor of art history and director, the Italian Academy, Columbia University. Author of the 1989 classic The Power of Images: Studies in the History and Theory of Response.

  • Devorah Sperber, visual artist. Her work explores the link between art and technology, how the eyes prioritize, and reality as a subjective experience vs. an absolute truth.


  • V. S. Ramachandran, director, Center for Brain and Cognition, the University of California at San Diego. Author of several books, including A Brief Tour of Human Consciousness: From Impostor Poodles to Purple Numbers.

  • Felice Frankel, director, Envisioning Science Project, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Author of Envisioning Science: the Design and Craft of the Science Image.

  • Eric Heller, professor of physics and chemistry, Harvard University.

  • Barbara Tversky, professor of psychology, Stanford University. Her research interests include spatial thinking, diagrammatic reasoning, visualization, event perception and cognition, and the communication of these ideas through word, gesture, and picture.

Support for this conference was provided by the David Schwarz family and the National Science Foundation.

Seating is limited. To RSVP, please contact Jennifer Tang, 2128380230 x257 or email [email protected]

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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