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.

Tags:

Art History

Comments are closed

Month List




Own Art makes buying art easy and affordable - spread the cost of your purchase over 10 months with an interest free loan. Find out more

News and information

Contact us

  • ArtGallery.co.uk
    Millennium House
    Brunel Drive
    Newark
    NG24 2DE