Essays on Art and Science
by Eric R. Kandel
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Pub Date 19 Mar 2024 | Archive Date 26 Jun 2024
When we view a work of art, we often experience an emotional response, but the causes of our reactions are complex. Our knowledge of why we respond to art as we do is rooted in science—in psychology and biology. Eric R. Kandel traces the origins of this understanding to early twentieth-century Vienna, which gave rise to the concept of the “beholder’s share,” the realization that art is incomplete without the perceptual and emotional involvement of the viewer—that is, without our responses to it.
But what causes our response? Our brain is a creativity machine that brings to bear on any image—including a painting—certain innate, universal processes related to sensory perception as well as higher-order processes related to our personal experiences, memories, and emotions. Understanding how these unconscious processes in the brain interact to create the beholder’s share is one of the great challenges confronting brain science in the twenty-first century.
The essays on art and science in this book vary widely in subject matter, including the angst-ridden portraits of Soutine, conflicting views of women’s sexuality, Cubism’s challenge to our innate visual processes, and why we react differently to abstract versus figurative art. But each essay focuses on the interaction of art and science. Woven throughout are the many notable Jewish artists, scientists, art historians, and others who contributed to our understanding of how we experience art.
Eric R. Kandel is University Professor Emeritus; professor emeritus of physiology and cellular biophysics, psychiatry, biochemistry and molecular biophysics, and neuroscience at Columbia University; founding codirector of Columbia University’s Zuckerman Institute; founding director of Columbia’s Kavli Institute for Brain Science; and Sagol Professor Emeritus of Brain Science at the Zuckerman Institute. He was also a senior investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute from 1984 to 2022. In 2000, Kandel was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his studies of learning and memory. He has been awarded twenty-four honorary degrees. Kandel is also the author of In Search of Memory: The Emergence of a New Science of Mind (2006), The Age of Insight: The Quest to Understand the Unconscious in Art, Mind and Brain, from Vienna 1900 to the Present (2012), Reductionism in Art and Brain Science: Bridging the Two Cultures (Columbia, 2016), The Disordered Mind: What Unusual Brains Tell Us About Ourselves (2018), and There Is Life After the Nobel Prize (Columbia, 2022). He is a coauthor of Principles of Neural Science (2021), the standard textbook in the field of neuroscience.