Why Do We Really, Really Like Art?

by Aileen Mitchell 28. July 2016 18:26

Creating and looking at art has been an important part of civilisation since its beginnings - from cave painting to fabulous costumes for fireside rituals. Today, most art resides on walls as canvases or as sculptures on pieces of furniture. Although its place in 21st century life has shifted, the most important thing has remained the same: we still have it because we like it.

But why do we have this ancient affinity with shapes, colours and patterns that still manage to give us as much pleasure now as it did thousands of years ago?

There have been a number of studies in recent years to get to the bottom of why it is that we like art. All of these studies come to the same conclusion and reveal something remarkable.

Many people believe that although we now live in a world full of modern comforts, there is still a part of our brains that strongly responds to the essentials: water, food, sun etc. 

Certain pieces of art have been noted to take the flowing form of water, and intensified its blue colours in paintings. When we view this art, our brains may recognise these characteristics of water and respond positively to it. We need water to survive, and seeing an essential part of our survival on canvas makes us enjoy the piece of art.

Credit: Vincent van Gogh - bgEuwDxel93-Pg at Google Cultural Institute / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

We also respond positively to the colour green. One German study reveals that green inspires creativity and motivation when we see it - time to paint our art studio green!

So perhaps all good art engages a deep-rooted obsession with needing to survive?

Detecting patterns

Other studies have made very clear that there is significance in the well-known 'golden ratio', or 'golden rectangle' and superior creations.

From buildings to paintings and sculptures, anything made using the golden ratio seems to have a greater chance of becoming famous and noted throughout history than those that do not.

Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris can be divided into golden rectangles

Credit: Peter Haas / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

A study from the journal of Brain and Cognition shows that there are two areas of the brain that respond to art.

First, we process a piece of art visually. This includes trying to work out "how it works". For example, when shown a picture of a knife, we don't just see it as a shape, but register what we do with it (or in other words, how it works).

This study from the University of Toronto also confirms that this first stage takes place in our posterior cingulate cortex. This is the name of the part of the brain that deals with logical thinking and understanding function.

So there is sufficient evidence to suggest that we enjoy a puzzle. And art provides much more of a mental stimulus than other types of puzzles.

The study also goes beyond this first logical reaction to works of art. After we have thought of "how it works", the posterior cingulate cortex is also stimulated. This is the part of the brain that deals with our most inner thoughts and emotions.

This explains why people can feel such happy bliss when sitting and looking at a Kandinsky, or shedding a tear to a particularly moving Rembrandt. The famous quote by Hans Christian Andersen, "Where words fail, music speaks" also applies to art.

The study shows we can create and experience a wide range of emotions from all works of art, be it fear, joy, peace, or pain.

Of course, art is also now academic. We have genres like conceptual art, which can be deeply intellectual and enjoyed at that level. But beyond the analysis that these pieces "require" to be enjoyed, there is a deeper, primal response that we all experience.

The results of these studies also suggest that responding and appreciating art is a biological predisposition, not a culture that has to be learned. Anyone and everyone can create wonderful art and enjoy it. We can also like art for a number of reasons, but none of these reasons are more or less valued than each other.

We like art because it is in our nature.


Art History

'Loving Vincent' - The First Fully Painted Feature Film

by Aileen Mitchell 13. July 2016 08:38

We're so excited in anticipation of the film ‘Loving Vincent’ which will be the world's first feature-length painted animation - due in cinemas later this year. 

Vincent van Gogh

The film (or animation) is about the life and the controversial death of Vincent Van Gogh told through the animation of his paintings and the characters who inhabit them.  Each one of the 56,000 frames of the film is a work of art in itself – each frame is a single hand-painted oil on canvas, painted in van Gogh’s post-impressionistic style.

The inspiration for the project came from a quote of van Gogh’s: 

"We cannot speak other than by our paintings."

Embracing this philosophy, the husband-and-wife team of co-writers and directors Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman have woven over 120 of van Gogh's most famous paintings into the film's plot to tell the story of his turbulent life. The people van Gogh painted are the characters in the film who recall stories and events often in an interview style.

Using van Gogh’s paintings and letters, Kobiela and Welchman were able to create a story which gives an insight on van Gogh’s life, career and his mysterious suicide. As the paintings provided the visual stimulus, the idea to create the whole film in van Gogh’s artistic style was born. 

Each frame a masterpiece

Over the past two years, the production team has been creating the animation in a studio outside Gdansk in Poland. Feeding into the studio are 91 artists located there, as well as Athens and Wroclaw.  They are painting the frame-by-frame images which join together van Gogh’s masterpieces.  The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam have been closely involved in providing guidance to the artists who are painting the 56,000 paintings - 12 paintings per second - in the post-impressionistic style in specially developed and patented workstations.

Van Gogh's paintings have the feeling of movement and life with their rich colours and many lines, so it will be completely captivating to watch them come alive in this film.

 Of the artists, Welchman has said "The painters also have to learn to act, none of the painters in the team has any animation experience. They have to realise it's not a pretty painting, it's a performance." Welchman also said that one of the team's most talented painters had to leave the project because "he was only painting individual paintings".

Ahead of the film’s launch there have been opportunities to get involved at Cannes Marche du Film,  Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity and Glastonbury Festival.  The film is already gaining cult status and will undoubtedly pick up some gongs at the forthcoming awards ceremonies.

A troubled life

Despite his huge influence in the world of fine art that continues to this day, van Gogh was barely recognised as a great artist during his lifetime. Suffering from mental illness for most of his working life, the film focusses on the aftermath of van Gogh’s alleged suicide. 

Some art researchers have discredited the account of his suicide attempt and suspect someone else shot van Gogh. It seems there was enough evidence for this theory to be brought before a senior official at the Van Gogh Museum, who advised the enquiry should be dropped because it was "too controversial".

Today, van Gogh is rightly recognised as a genius and one of the most famous artists in fine art history. He also inspires some of the wonderful talent of our own ArtGallery artists:

We really cannot wait for the UK release of this visual masterpiece. For more information on the film see the trailer below and the website about the film’s development here: www.lovingvincent.com

Picture credit: Self portrait of Vincent van Gogh courtesy of Van Gogh Museum


Malvern Theatres - Summer Exhibition 11 July - 20 Aug 2016

by Humph Hack 10. July 2016 14:11

One of the reactions to the new extension to Tate Modern is that there are works nobody has ever seen before from relatively “unknown” artists. How often have you heard visitors to galleries seeking out the familiar and almost ignoring other equally good works of real quality. We all rely on the familiar in our everyday lives. If your favourite cup isn’t where it usually is, the day doesn’t start well. But to complain about being introduced to new Art surely misses the point. At the cutting edge, new work should challenge the viewer.

But, do you want to live with a pile of bricks or an unmade bed?

The works on show in Malvern until 20 August are fresh but are produced by artists who have a track record of selling works you can live with. All three have exhibited successfully here before. Their work graces homes and offices across the UK and further afield.

Lesley Blackburn completed a Foundation Art Course at Wakefield School of Arts and Crafts in West Yorkshire. She went on to achieve a BA in Fine Art and Sculpture in 1979 at Winchester School of Art. She has sold work privately as well as through the internet. She has exhibited and sold work in a gallery in Surrey. Her work is largely influenced by impressionism and she particularly specialises in paintings featuring water and seascapes. She recently gave up full-time employment to concentrate on her paintings, working in a purpose-built studio in her garden. Lesley is among the top twenty selling artists through www.artgallery.co.uk – a site which sells work from over 2,000 other artists. This return visit by Lesley features some of her most recent works.

Hazel Thomson has travelled the world, and meeting all sorts of people in the arts, sciences; people who are very spiritual. She says”, I am always learning in life and observing the obvious and not so obvious. I am always looking to conceive, cultivate and embrace new concepts and ideas in my art work”. She goes on walkabout around the country, observing places in all seasons and different times of the day. People have described her work as classical and but with more than a hint of the contemporary. She has sold her paintings in the UK and overseas. Since taking up painting full-time, in 2012 she has exhibited in an astonishing number of venues, regularly winning prizes and commendations.

Mark Bennett grew up in the Cotswolds and has painted from a very young age. He started exhibiting professionally in his early twenties. Since then each exhibition has been more and more successful and his paintings can now been seen throughout the country on a regular basis and in private collections throughout the world. He has been described as a rising star in the art world, his pieces have been compared to the likes of Fabian Perez, Jack Vettriano and Mark Spain and have become more and more collectable. Mark is inspired by many other art forms, particularly dance and music which are the focus of most of his pieces. Mark says of his work, "I love to paint passion and emotions in people and can see this most in dance. I paint fast and loose with oils which create great textures." Mark, like Lesley and Hazel has successfully shown in Malvern before.

The exhibition can be viewed all day every day from Monday 11 July to Saturday 20 August.



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