33 Pages

Art and the Brain

WithSemir Zeki

The concept of the functions of the visual brain inherited by modern neurobiologists was based on facts derived between 1860 and 1970. Chief among these was the demonstration by the Swedish neuropathologist Salomon Henschen and his successors in Japan and England that the retina of the eye is not diffusely connected to the whole brain but only to a well-defined and circumscribed part of the cerebral cortex. The brain is only interested in obtaining knowledge about those permanent, essential, or characteristic properties of objects and surfaces that allow it to categorize them. Neurobiology would have to depart from the Platonic system in saying not only that this general representation is built by the brain but also that there can be no Ideals without the brain. Plato was among the most prominent of those who lamented the poverty of art. Without ever referring to the brain, he implicitly compared the limitations of art to the infinite capacities of the brain.