Pleasure and the Arts: Enjoying Literature, Painting, and Music


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It also turns out that there is little evidence that either exposure to art or extensive practice in creating art have more general positive effects on smarts or kindness. Yes, there are many studies showing that children who take art classes tend to later outperform others in all sorts of ways. But such studies suffer from selection effects—the children who take these classes tend to be more advanced to start with.

When you do proper experiments, randomly assigning children to classes, such results go away. Winner is in favor of teaching art in school, but she is a purist, seeing art as valuable for its own sake, not because of any other effects it might have. You might be tempted to see this focus on the mind of the artist as an optional extra. After all, some claim to enjoy art based solely on its immediate appearance, shorn of all history.


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But unmediated appreciation might be a myth. Some types of influences on aesthetic appreciation should worry us.

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Then he computed which painting is more central to the Impressionist canon by seeing which is more represented in art books. And then he showed Cornell undergraduates, graduate students, and faculty members these pairs and asked them which painting they liked best. Kandel is a professor at Columbia University, and received the Nobel Prize for his work on the neural structure of memory.

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What We Know About Art and the Mind | The New Yorker

He has also long been interested in art, particularly abstract art, and, in this trim volume, Kandel the Nobel laureate and Kandel the art lover join forces. Science often works through reductionism: breaking things into their component parts and showing how these parts combine to give us insights into the whole. Kandel is a confident writer, and his enthusiasm for brain science and abstract art shines through. Rather, it does so with the goal of showing how these parts combine to bring about the whole.


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  • Science chops up the world and then puts it back together. And, as Kandel himself admits at the end of the book, abstract art almost never does this; his favorite artists have no interest in how the parts combine to make the whole. If you really want an analogy, cooking is probably a better one. When you cook, you start with ingredients and put them together, working to establish a whole greater than the sum of its parts.

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    Or consider language, where sounds combine to make words, and words make phrases and sentences. Kandel often describes art and artistic experience in terms of brain processes. Actually, though, I find it easy to believe this. Or take Willem de Kooning and Gustav Klimt, whose works, Kandel tells us in a very interesting discussion, combine aggression and sexuality.


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    • This suggests that the brain circuits regulating these two behaviors are intimately linked. We know this from Darwin and Freud, and from primatologists, developmental psychologists, criminologists, and feminist scholars.

      Pleasure and the Arts: Enjoying Literature, Painting, and Music

      We know it mostly just by paying attention to the world around us. The fact that this relationship happens to be expressed in hippocampus neuroanatomy tells us nothing new about sex, aggression, or art. As far as I can tell, actually, the brain talk never adds to the book. And so on. Of course, the perception and pleasure and understanding of art all take place in the brain—where else would they happen? Mirror Link.

      What We Know About Art and the Mind

      Please allow notifications to be able to download files. Block Allow. Christopher Butler. How do the arts give us pleasure? Covering a very wide range of artistic works, from Auden to David Lynch, Rembrandt to Edward Weston, and Richard Strauss to Keith Jarrett, Pleasure and the Arts offers us an explanation of our enjoyable emotional engagements with literature, music, and painting.

      The arts direct us to intimate and particularized relationships, with the people represented in the works, or with those we imagine produced them.

      Pleasure and the Arts: Enjoying Literature, Painting, and Music
      Pleasure and the Arts: Enjoying Literature, Painting, and Music
      Pleasure and the Arts: Enjoying Literature, Painting, and Music
      Pleasure and the Arts: Enjoying Literature, Painting, and Music
      Pleasure and the Arts: Enjoying Literature, Painting, and Music
      Pleasure and the Arts: Enjoying Literature, Painting, and Music

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