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18 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What studying brain cells can tell us about art
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...
Published on March 14, 2000 by Benedikt Berninger

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51 of 60 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars this has little to do with art
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...
Published on March 30, 2003 by drollere


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51 of 60 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars this has little to do with art, March 30, 2003
By 
drollere (Sebastopol, CA United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Inner Vision: An Exploration of Art and the Brain (Hardcover)
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.
in the end, zeki's argument is highly parochial. his examples come from the "edge detection" art of the supremacists or the cubists; the "color perception" art of the fauves, the "movement perception" art of calder, and so on -- simplistic art for simplistic art theories. (someone should ask, where are the edges in monet or turner, the color in kline or velazquez, the movement in vermeer or van dyck?) on the philosophical side, zeki seems willing to cite plato or hegel as straw men to knock down, but seems completely unaware of the many philosophical or social psychological theorists who could enrich his "active construction" view of visual perception. finally, zeki seems not to have had a personal colloquy with practicing artists, who could disabuse him of his naive reading of western art and its traditions.
psychologists will find this book to be unexpectedly thin on the facts of recent neural research and cognitive function, and lacking in philosophical depth. artists will look at zeki's simplistic reading of art and art history, shrug and wonder, what is this guy talking about?
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18 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What studying brain cells can tell us about art, March 14, 2000
By 
Benedikt Berninger (La Jolla, CA United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Inner Vision: An Exploration of Art and the Brain (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
4.0 out of 5 stars Brain, Biology and Bueaty, February 18, 2006
This review is from: Inner Vision: An Exploration of Art and the Brain (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. The book itself has an aesthetic appeal and the publisher deserves kudos for the page layout and cover design. Although I do not share the degree of skepticism that my fellow reviewer drollere has, I think this book has its own limitations. For instance the cases of these patients have been described elsewhere ranging from Steven Pinkers- How Mind Works to some articles/lectures of VS Ramachandran. The concept of `micro consciousness' raised in this book is ill-defined and misleading and it has to be separated from the core consciousness defined by Antonio Damasio.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A Most Interesting Start on a Most Interesting Topic, January 12, 2008
This review is from: Inner Vision: An Exploration of Art and the Brain (Hardcover)
As one only recently introduced to this line of research literature, I find this book most interesting, although, as states the author, we are only at the foremost front of understanding the links between art and the brain. While professional psychologists may find it a bit thin, for this noninitiate, it is a delightful read. I challenge those professionals with complaints to get their material into print in a package as readable as this so that we can have a more up-to-date understanding of where this line or research is today. This book summarizes information up to 1999 - about 9 years ago.

I would like to see a synthesis of what is known about eye movements, the perceptual system, and the satisfaction/pleasure/satiation - maybe even addiction - neural pathways and the artistic product. With the constantly improving scanning techologies, it must be possible to look more deeply and thoroughly into what the brain is doing when producing or viewing art. It seems from Zeki's text, that the specialized visual perceptual centers and their activation parameters are not adequate to address how viewers and artists arrive at feelings of satisfaction or pleasure from a 2-D artistic product.

And what are the brain organization criteria that may have lead to the modern approaches that correlate to the specific perception centers' activation anyway? Have brains evolved ever so slightly enough that some few persons (artists) have higher than normal concentrations of neurons in one or more of those centers, the activations of which lead with increased probabilities to links to satisfaction centers, as an explanation for developments in the arts in the last few centuries?

Anyway, this book is a daring attempt to move the field toward more answers to questions that intrigue this reader a great deal. It needs to be updated.
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5 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What studying brain cells can tell us about art, March 3, 2000
By 
Benedikt Berninger (La Jolla, CA United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Inner Vision: An Exploration of Art and the Brain (Hardcover)
I found this book extremely fascinating: Because it provides compelling evidence that certain aspects of our aesthetic experience when looking at paintings can be understood in terms of the physiological properties of neurons in the visual brain. It is written lucidly, with beautiful illustrations.
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5 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stimulating, honest and inspiring, September 19, 2000
This review is from: Inner Vision: An Exploration of Art and the Brain (Hardcover)
"Fresh air" is the best definition of Seki's book on art and brain. Innovative for neuroscientists and artists, it proposes a comprehensive, yet speculative (i.e., stimulating), vision on neuroaestethics. You won't read neither a neurosciences book, nor an art one. It's both... and more.
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Inner Vision: An Exploration of Art and the Brain
Inner Vision: An Exploration of Art and the Brain by Semir Zeki (Hardcover - February 17, 2000)
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