Why do we find it hard to explain why art is beautiful? Perhaps it is because the visual system of the human brain is much more developed than its language centers, as it has had far longer--millions of years--to evolve. Semir Zeki believes that we can only reach a better understanding of art as we learn more about the operations of the visual brain.
Zeki demonstrates that the simple act of seeing is a profoundly artistic activity. Separating out the mass of geometrical and spectral information received through the eye to arrive at a visual perception is a complex and creative process. Zeki traces the functional similarities of the artist and the seeing brain. "Just as the brain searches for constancies and essentials," Zeki writes, "so does art.... It is those attributes of vision [to which] the brain has assigned specialised processing systems ... that have primacy in art. Among those one can include colour, form, motion, faces, facial expressions and even body language."
Zeki's examples are varied and convincing. For example, he explores the relationship between modern works that have emphasized lines and the reaction of cells in the brain that work on lines of specific orientation. More ambitiously, he even outlines the neurological bases of Fauvism and Cubism!
T.S. Eliot said that using language to discuss art was "a raid on the inarticulate, with shabby equipment." In Inner Vision, that pejorative statement acquires a heroic mantle: no artist worth the name and no one who enjoys visual beauty can afford to ignore the insights contained in this book. --Simon Ings, Amazon.co.uk
"Rigorous and stimulating." -Times Literary Supplement, 11/3/00