This is Your Brain on Art

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Mark Rothko’s “Number 14” on display at the San Francisco Metropolitan Museum of Art

Dr. Eric Kandel is a neuroscientist at Columbia University and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute who won the Nobel Prize for his research into how we form memories. He’s also an avid art collector. In his latest book, "Reductionism in Art and Brain Science: Bridging the Two Cultures," Kandel combines his two passions in an explanation of how our brains process art. Stemming from his decades of researching snail brains and memory, Kandel’s research breaks down how our cognitive functions perceive, process and appreciate art.

Kurt Andersen: So I see how you and other scientists reduce these complex processes down to their most basic fundamental versions, so how does that work in art?

Eric Kandel: Artists often use experimental approaches that are very similar to scientists. Chuck Close and Richard Serra said, “Creativity is for amateurs — we solve problems.”

As you have thought about and studied and written about the neuroscience of perception, has that changed the way you look at art?

Absolutely. I study it more carefully — it hasn’t really changed my taste dramatically, but the more you study something the better you get at it and the more you enjoy looking at new things…

And it doesn’t stop you from enjoying it?

Not at all! The more you know something the more you enjoy it.

Music Playlist

  1. Familiar

    Artist: Nils Frahm
    Album: Felt
    Label: Erased Tapes