The brain of the artist is one of the most exciting workplaces, and now an art historian at the University of East Anglia has joined forces with a leading neuroscientist to unravel its complexities.
Creating a brand new academic discipline neuroarthistory Prof John Onians uses the results from new scanning techniques to answer questions such as:
The new research will be presented at the BA Festival of Science in Norwich on Wednesday September 6.
Prof Onians, of UEA's School of World Art Studies, said: "Until now we had no way of knowing what went on inside the artist's brain although Leonardo tried, using anatomy and observation. But now we are finally unlocking the door to this secret world.
"We can also use neuroarthistory much more widely, both to better understand the nature of familiar artistic phenomena such as style, and to crack so far intractable problems such as 'what is the origin of art?'"
There are many areas in which neuroarthistory puts the study of art on a more informed foundation. None is more striking than the first appearance of art in the Cave of Chauvet 32,000 years ago. No approach other than neuroarthistory can explain why this, the first art, is also the most naturalistic, capturing the mental and physical resources of bears and lions as if on a wildlife film.
Neuroarthistory can also explain why Florentine painters made more use of line and Venetian painters more of colour. The reason is that 'neural plasticity' ensured that passive exposure to different natural and manmade environments caused the formation of different visual preferences.