Thursday, October 17, 2013
When Art and Science Collide
At our first docent training session for the upcoming portraiture exhibition, one of the KMA curators mentioned that she read Eric R. Kandel's book, The Age of Insight, as part of her research. Mr. Kandel is a recipient of the 2000 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, is University Professor and Kavli Professor at Columbia University and a Senior Investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. He is also founding director of the Center for Neurobiology and Behavior at the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University.
What does all this have to do with art? Well, Mr. Kandel's book discusses how the burgeoning science of the mind influenced art in Vienna from 1890 to 1918. In addition, "The dialogue and the ongoing research in brain science and art continue to this day. They have given us an initial understanding of the processes at work in the brain of the beholder -- the viewer -- as he or she looks at a work of art." (p. xiv)
In Vienna at the start of the twentieth century, the onset of the field of psychology influenced the Viennese modernists to concern themselves more with the psyche of their subjects than rendering a realistic representation of their subject. This new path was facilitated because artists, intellectuals, and medical professionals met, discussed, and debated new movements in each of their fields.
"In the 1930s scholars at the Vienna School of Art History were instrumental in in advancing the modernist agenda of Klimt, Kokoschka, and Schiele. They emphasized that the function of the modern artist was not to convey beauty, but to convey new truths. In addition, the Vienna School of Art History, influenced in part by Sigmund Freud's psychological work, began to develop a science-based psychology of art that was initially focused on the beholder." (p. xvi)
I've learned all this in just the preface to the 515 page book. I'm so intrigued that I ordered my own copy of the book so I can write in the margins and take my time absorbing all it all. Next up: Part 1 -- A Psychoanalytic Psychology and Art of Unconscious Emotion.
I don't know what that means, but I'll let you know when I do.