629: Artist

A Thousand Things to Talk About
629: Artist

What art or artist are you excited about right now?

Full episode script

Art – in just about every form – can be particularly powerful. Not only as the creative expression of life, as we talked about in yesterday’s episode, but also because art so heavily impacts us in ways we may not even realize. So much so that this is yet another thing that falls into the “maybe this is what makes us human” category.


Quoting extensively from Andrew Nunes’ 2014 article about the science of art:


Conducted by University of Toronto researchers, the eight-year long, seven country-spanning meta-study details a vast spectrum of newfound information gleaned from past research. Regardless if it’s mesmerizing or polarizing art, we react to it. This is good. This might be what makes us human.


The researchers’ first discovery regarded the formal elements of artworks, noting that “the shape, color, and orientation, activated diverse areas of the visual cortex”— the part of the brain responsible for processing visual information— and through the lingual, middle occipital, and fusiform gyrus. This seems straightforward enough; what you initially see in an artwork gets processed by the visual center of your brain. But from there, the research only became more interesting.


One of the finds includes the ways in which our brain’s “anterior temporal lobe, which is involved in…higher-order conceptual integration of information in relation to objects (e.g. how does a knife function),” is stimulated through the viewing of art. This essentially means that our own logic regarding how particular objects works enters into dialogue with the logic of the object in question. This directly correlates to art’s influence over thinking.


The scientists also “observed activation in the posterior cingulate cortex bilaterally,” a part of the brain linked to our inner thoughts and emotions—an unexpected revelation that wasn’t part of their three original hypotheses. These details could suggest that art biologically triggers pleasure, pain, expectations, pain, or other emotions. In other words, culture didn’t train us to respond emotionally to art; evolution did.


Then again, there’s that whole question of what even counts as art – and if art that you’re excited about is art that would even fall into that category. If you want to hear more about that, check out our Deep Dive episode with ArtCurious, exploring the question of what makes art in detail.

This script may vary from the actual episode transcript.