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Inner Vision: An Exploration of Art and the Brain Hardcover – February 17, 2000

ISBN-13: 978-0198505198 ISBN-10: 0198505191

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Inner Vision: An Exploration of Art and the Brain + The Age of Insight: The Quest to Understand the Unconscious in Art, Mind, and Brain, from Vienna 1900 to the Present
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (February 17, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0198505191
  • ISBN-13: 978-0198505198
  • Product Dimensions: 9.8 x 6.8 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #481,976 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

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,


"Rigorous and stimulating." -Times Literary Supplement, 11/3/00

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

50 of 59 people found the following review helpful By drollere on March 30, 2003
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
as someone with a doctorate in psychology who has retired to a life of intensive painting, i can say this book falls short in its fundamental premise: if we can identify a distinct visual capability in the brain, that capability forms the basis for visual esthetic judgments. that argument unfortunately goes nowhere, and the result is a thin book with its substantive content spread even thinner.
zeki's argument is roughly that the mind is an active creator of visual experience; that we create visual experience using a variety of "modular" cerebral functions (specific neighborhoods of the brain that detect edges, analyze movement, perceive color, recognize faces); and that art works which "appeal" to these modular capabilities provide the foundation for art. claims that art that becomes "great" if the mind is presented with ambiguous or multiple interpretations, provoking it to "actively create" varied interpretations from the work in view. in this way zeki hopes to reason his way toward a "neurological esthetics," a biologically based prescription of what is beautiful or compelling art.
well, where to begin ... because a brain function is invoked by a stimulus does not make it interesting or great; my review invokes your language capabilities, but that doesn't make my words poetry. a painting does not succeed by creating a variety of specific but competing interpretations, as zeki claims, but by reframing awareness into a realm where the mundane categorizations necessary for behavior are stretched by the exercise of the senses. what counts as beautiful cannot be determined from the quantitative activity of different brain regions. what counts as beautiful depends heavily on cultural expectations, not on physiology ... on and on the objections roll.
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18 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Benedikt Berninger on March 14, 2000
Format: Hardcover
I was deeply fascinated by this book: because it provides compelling evidence that certain aspects of the way we perceive art can be explained by the physiological properties of nerve cells in the visual brain. Zeki illustrates this point most strikingly at examples of modern art. He proposes that many modern artists have unknowingly created visual stimuli that are optimally tailored to the response properties of neurons in specific subregions of the visual processing stream. Zeki's writing is extremely lucid, with a good portion of irony, and excellent illustrations increase the pleasure or reading this book.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful By J Venugopal on February 18, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Neuroscientists have for a long been looking inside the brain to understand its function. Semir Zeki, in this book proposes the unconventional idea of looking into the most beautiful products of brain, visual art of instance, to understand the functioning of brain. Citing examples of Shakesphere and Wagner, he goes further to propose that some artists might be thought of as neurologists, "for they at least did know how to probe the mind of humans with the techniques of language and of music and understood perhaps better than most what it takes to move the mind of human". By showing the striking features of the patients studied by himself and others, he gives compelling evidence that vision is not a singular process and there are parts of brain that are dedicated to various functions such as color, form, motion etc. He writes about patients who have damaged a part of the visual brain (V4) and sees the world in dark shades of grey. Similarly, patients with damage in V5 neither see nor understand motion. They only see discontinuous static images. They for instance cannot see the rising level of a drink in a glass and the drink always overflows. Then he describes a patient with damage to a certain region in cortex, who cannot recognize faces. This person can visualize lines and objects but simply cannot recognize faces. All of these abilities that seem so simple and effortless to all of us normal people -- it's only when something goes wrong we realize how extraordinarily subtle the mechanisms of vision really are and how complexly integrated a process it really is.

For readers who are not familiar with visual arts, this book will give you a condensed idea about different branches of paintings and what the painter was trying to achieve. I found it interesting.
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