Thoughts & Insights

Art and the Mind

This was the intriguing title given to a panel discussion held on 2 June at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art during this year’s World Science Festival.

You can watch the panel discussion here: [part one], [part two].


Perhaps in the light of the experiences I’ve made in my MINDKISS Encounters Project, my expectations about this event were pitched a little too high. At least as far as I saw it, the evening was less about the spirit of art and much more about documentable reactions to art in the human brain through to MRI-assisted calibration of reactions to a variety of photos of works of art in the different regions of test persons brains, and the psychological interpretation of such reactions. This is all very well, but after all mind and brain represent two very different levels of human perception.

Basically the panel was more interested in discovering how people reacted to the pictorial representation of figures in a variety of different situational contexts. This seemed obvious because all experiments only used famous paintings from periods from the 15th to the 19th century that showed people in a variety of clear and unambiguous emotional contexts. This kind of attempt to present an objective view of subjective reactions to art does have a certain kind of limited interest. Only it strikes me as not very illuminating when it comes to discovering new insights into the spiritual bond between the human mind and painting – particularly since the investigation relied solely on photos of paintings which completely fail to give the format and convey the particular aura of the original work.

In the Encounters with OUBEYs art what we do have is the expressly desired subjectivity of perception in the immediacy of exposure to a previously unknown original work of art. And this is a work of art that doesn’t shown any specific human “motif” in a readily understandable emotional context but rather is more of a snapshot of a on-going process of intellectual and emotional enquiry into the fundamental questions of human life. This is why the Encounters Project explicitly shuns any kind of evaluation, classification or interpretation of the encounters documented on film. Its principle is “Experience for yourself what OUBEY called a MINDKISS”. Let it happen. Open yourself up. And take as much time as you want.

Without wanting in any way to disparage the scientific value of the findings presented by the panel, I felt a wave of relief when psychologist David Freedberg summed up the discussion after one and a half hours by saying that fortunately just how and why people react to art the way they do will remain shrouded in mystery.