When looking at a work of art, one often has an immediate reaction to the piece, perhaps a sense of pleasure and calm, or even disgust and confusion. Sometimes the reasons for a positive reaction can be hard to explain. According to a recent scientific study performed on guinea pigs, when shown an artwork considered conventionally beautiful, blood flow was increased in a certain part of the brain by almost 10% – the same reaction that occurs when one looks at a loved one. Classic landscapes and portraits by artists such as Constable, Ingres and Reni produced the most pleasurable feelings in the study’s guinea pig viewers, while more grotesque pieces by Hieronymous Bosch, which served as the “ugly” end of the spectrum of paintings produced the smallest increases in bloodflow.
Though opinions of beauty are obviously quite subjective (and most certainly in the art world), the same positive reaction in the brain occurred in an MRI study conducted with humans. Paintings considered by the viewers to be the most pleasing once again evoked a set of responses in the same area of the brain. So whether you prefer the calmness of something like Monet’s Impression Sunrise or are more engaged by something more frenetic like the works of Bosch, the positive impact of the art can’t be denied. While I find an immediate beauty and sereness in several of our current artist John Folsom’s landscapes such as Shaker Frontier IV, who’s to say that this would produce the same reaction in everyone? Either way, anyone can improve his or her day just by looking at a piece of art they enjoy – it’s science!