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5.0 out of 5 stars Vienna art shines in the brain, March 28, 2012
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This review is from: The Age of Insight: The Quest to Understand the Unconscious in Art, Mind, and Brain, from Vienna 1900 to the Present (Kindle Edition)
This is a splendid book both on the workings of the brain and how it can be exemplified in the art of Vienna 1900. This was after all the place and time that led to modernity making Vienna one of the pre-eminent capitals of the world. One is swept up in the feeling of being privy to the birth of the new understanding in medicine and art as it took place in Vienna 1900 in its most intense unfolding and this description is extended to later work, predominantly at US universities, often by people who derived from the Viennese school of thinking through emigration.
The work follows the tradition of the bridge-builders between the seemingly opposed subjects bringing new insights from brain-science in understanding art. It shows, in academic detail, the brain as a network that finds pleasure in the acquisition of knowledge in either field. It is rather comprehensive and learned at that.

The book is cerebral but very readable; in fact I read it in a Marathon session in preparing for a trip to New York to the Golden Adele, this Mona Lisa of the Fin de Siècle. You don't need the trip though; there are wonderful reproductions in the book of interesting work to be analyzed. You need also not read all the academic detail, there is much to enjoy by taking glimpses or by looking at shorter summaries and graphs.

In the first part we learn, in an especially engrossing section, about the general atmosphere in Vienna during its golden time, its coffee-house and theater culture, its literary, musical and salon life but another forward force was the influence of Europe's premier Medical School of the time in Vienna that established such routines as stethoscope or auscultation. It was the understanding of its research that urged the artists and scientists to look further below the surface. In fact, Klimt's ornaments often come from microscopic cell structures from Medical School. Much loving personal detail is given in this section. Freud is discussed, as are his contemporaries the writers Schnitzler and Hoffmannsthal who have looked to the unconscious. But the focus is on Klimt, Kokoschka and Schiele, the Austrian Modernist painters. Their work is analyzed from a Nobel brain scientist's perspective in a tour de force.
In further sections a new and trailblazing sense for artistic analysis based on brain processes is suggested in great detail and you will learn about contemporary brain criteria for appreciating art. This section does not introduce the scientific practitioners with the same loving attention and it reminds you more of a science survey article. It helps if you don't hate terms like oxytocin, as it is the chemical involved in love, and much is made in the text of these brain chemicals. You learn that caricatures work because specific brain cells exist that like to read them. This is why the exagerations of the Austrian expressionists are so effective.

Amongst the broader subject of Vienna 1900, Good Living Street: Portrait of a Patron Family, Vienna 1900Family, Vienna 1900 gives a touching documentary of the Gallias, an art patronage family of which the author is a descendent, and Tassilo's guide to Klimt's Kiss/ Paintings of Vienna's Belvedere an erudite and witty visit with a Jewish teen-girl to the museum where much of the art discussed is displayed. It can serve as an entertaining introductory course so to speak. One of the first to point out the importance of Vienna 1900 as one of the cultural capitals of the world and as a founder of Modernity was Fin-De-Siecle Vienna: Politics and Culture, perhaps more for the academically minded. None have gone so deep into the brain so far as Kandel to make Vienna shine. Your whole perspective of looking at art will be changed, and you will learn a lot about yourself even if you may now view yourself more as a caricature.
When asked in a comment on flaws of the Kindle edition I came to realize how flawless it is. Footnotes and pictures are fully integrated and pictures are even repeated where the text returns to them.
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Showing 1-5 of 5 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Apr 2, 2012 12:36:41 PM PDT
[Deleted by the author on Jul 21, 2012 3:45:07 AM PDT]

Posted on Apr 8, 2012 5:25:05 PM PDT
Lilac, how was the Kindle edition?

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 9, 2012 7:31:23 AM PDT
Lilac says:
Kindle edition is flawless. I came to understand your concerns with footnotes and pictures. Pictures are even repeated where the text returns to them. Of course there are locations or %, instead of page numbers on Kindle. You can highlight and return to them.

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 9, 2012 3:36:49 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Apr 9, 2012 3:37:38 PM PDT
Thanks Lilac. Did you press "Menu" while on a page? I understand that most new e-books do have page numbers but you have the press the "Menu" key to see them. Thanks for the feedback; I always hesitate when I see a high priced e-book because I've been unhappy with some of the editing in some of them. I also find that if you make the print smaller it affects everything else, even where a paragraph or chapter begins on the "page." It may also affect photo and photo credit/notes that become separated from each other when the font size is larger.

Posted on Jun 2, 2012 4:34:19 AM PDT
[Deleted by the author on Jun 2, 2012 6:51:41 AM PDT]
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