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Chai-Youn Kim, Randolph Blake; Brain activity reflects implied motion in abstract paintings. Journal of Vision 2007;7(9):781. doi: 10.1167/7.9.781.
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© ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)
Background: Early 20th century artists including Duchamp and Balla tried to portray moving objects on static canvas by superimposing objects in successive portrayals of an action. We investigated 1) whether viewing those kinds of paintings activate motion-sensitive brain areas, and 2) whether activations are associated with previous exposure to these kinds of artwork. Experiment 1: We tested two groups of observers, one with prior exposure to such paintings and others without such knowledge. Twelve abstract paintings intended to portray motion (MP) and twelve “static” paintings (SP) were shown to observers, who used a 5-point scale to rate the extent to which each painting implied visual motion. Both groups of observers (knowledgeable and naïve) rated MP higher in implied motion than SP, but there was a statistically significant interaction between painting types and observer experience. Experiment 2: We used functional magnetic resonance imaging to measure brain activity in observers who viewed abstract paintings rated the highest and the lowest in terms of motion. MT+, but not V1, showed greater BOLD responses to MP than to SP, only in observers with prior experience viewing those kinds of paintings. Conclusion: Evidently the neural machinery ordinarily engaged during perception of real visual motion is activated when people view paintings explicitly designed to convey a sense of visual motion. Unintentionally, artists like Duchamp and Balla succeeded in manipulating the human brain to transcend the static limitations imposed by painted images frozen on the canvas. Experience, however, is necessary to achieve this sense of motion.
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