Beauty is in the Brain of the Beholder

Summary – Did you know that >> the part of your brain that is triggered by beauty responds more to representational images than to abstract images?

Click on an image for a full screen slide show

These abstracts were just an experiment (as yet incomplete)


The abstract of  a recent neuroscience study stated

“….the neural mechanisms underlying appreciation of figurative [representational, EdK] and abstract images may be different, at least in individuals with no strong background in fine arts.”

The brain region associated with  aesthetics (beauty)

Responds more positively to

Representational than to abstract images

(Found to be true for both paintings & photographs)

One explanation was that to appreciate abstract images

One needed go get beyond recognizing & naming objects

“There’s a house under a tree….”

A feeling more like this Monet quote is required instead

“When you go out to paint try to forget what object you have before you – a tree, a house, a field or whatever. Merely think, here is a little square of blue, here an oblong of pink, here a streak of yellow,….

But – This isn’t how evolution programmed the brain


The EdK theory of abstract image appreciation:

Human vision evolved to perform one primary task

Identify WHAT we see (strong emphasis on WHAT)

Friend or foe, eat or be eaten – that sort of thing

Until we know what an object is

Everything else is relatively immaterial

After – and only after – the primary task is complete

Can we move on to

The appreciation of form and color

Since the essence of an abstract image is form & color

With no readily identifiable object

When presented with an abstract image

Our brain (vision system) gets stuck

On WHAT (which can’t be answered)

And has difficulty moving on to the next step

Form and color

Thus the reason for the brain’s

Relative difficulty in appreciating abstract beauty


I think my wife hit the nail on the head by saying

Abstracts are an acquired taste

All of this helps to explain why

Viewer appreciation of abstract images is a hard-sell

Any wonder why yesterday’s B&W abstract

Landed with a dull thud

A colorless subject-free abstract

Probably the worst of all worlds to the “aesthetic-brain”

Evolution has trained us to

Appreciate natural (representational) beauty

But – It seems that appreciation of abstract images

Must be learned


Learn to make B&W abstracts that “sing” and

You can make anything sing 😉

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2 thoughts on “Beauty is in the Brain of the Beholder

  1. I’m sure Rorschach and his followers would have an interesting dialog regarding the topic of figurative vs. abstract images.

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