Museum brain stimulation

Metropolitan Museum of Art

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As part of mind stimulating trip I have the opportunity to visit some museums. I am lucky enough to be in NY city and visited the Metropolitan museum of art – among the greatest in the world.

I strolled through the long and winding rooms and wondered would I think these are great painting if somebody hadn’t told me? Or at least that these seven (pick any famous seven) painters are clearly above the other painters who’s works aren’t hung on these prestigious walls (and are largely or completely forgotten) for millions to see each year? Already the museum had at least got me thinking – proposing thought experiments.

I remember several years ago, after having spent 3 weeks in Europe and visiting various museums, when I walked into a Washington DC museum and as I wandered around I saw a painting in the distance and I said to myself – ‘A Degas’ even though I didn’t recognize this specific painting. When I wandered up to the description sure enough in was a Degas. I was feeling pretty proud for an artless scientist.

Therefore, today I was somewhat mystified when at the museums several times I was wrong with my guess of the artist. I thought I recognized the Pointillism style of X and it would turn out to be Y (pointillism is just one example of impressionism and post-impressionism). Then I realized as I looked closer (without remembering the names), at least to an untrained and schooled eye, that it seemed liked there were little groups that all pretty well used what I use to think of as a distinct style. I am sure somebody with a little bit more art knowledge would surely set me straight – but still there are some similarity in some of the techniques used by the various members (if they were not copying there were ‘heavily influenced’ – not to say the same thing doesn’t happen in writing and/or science).

This throw me for a few minutes because my simplistic understanding of the late 19th century paintings were the exploration of new ways to look and interpret the world. They we could view the world through individual specific perceptions – but if they were just copying each other – . Early in the day I saw the rich colours and brilliant lighting techniques of the Renaissance and Baroque painters (and throw in Romanticism). Yes, they were beautiful but how many different ways can you depict reality in a straightforward manner (even with very dramatic lighting)? I had heard of several books that highlighted the changes in science and physics that fostered the new art (or vice versa – not sure about the chicken or egg argument in this case). My artless trained conclusion was how many ways can you depict a new reality – hence they soon started copying each other. And like the Renaissance painting style this new exciting departure from normal reality also gave way to the even newer and bolder attempts of modern art (modernism, post-modernism). Okay, enough of my overly simplistic art history lesson (which is I am sure somewhat misguided).

Sadly, I wasn’t inspired today at the museum – maybe because I have seen enough art (in the form of history) as now I only see slight derivations of things I have seen previously from the various museums I have visited around the world. (I also found myself in the middle of my visit to this museum pulling out my laptop and doing a little science as I glanced up at a Degas’ between my work on the computer – actually I guess I am pretty luck to be doing work in such beautiful surroundings).

But I do draw myself near to a Van Gogh painting – looking closely at the splotched on paint – layered thick and richly. I ponder of how his work, his inspiration is congealed in this one time piece of work that can not be copied – that globe of paint smeared with that specific color, that specific slash, that specific motion. His art does seem particularly full of energy – if that is possible.

What struck me the most today was when I visited the ancient Egyptian art section and they had stones wall carvings with hieroglyphics writing. I was not really sure if these were originals (but I assumed so), or copies. But I thought of the person who 5,000 or so years ago worked away to make this wall art. Was he a free person or a slave? Did he enjoy his work, or did they have any choice? But still the work has lasted – not in its original location half way around the world – but sits in a Central park museum on some of the richest land in the world. This art piece is viewed by millions and millions and over years and years. I wonder what is the artist’s story? This made my neurons and brain sing.

Stimulate your brain – take in some art, be it in a book, on the web, or stop by a local gallery in your area (you don’t have to go to some world class museum to view art). Sure you might have some disagreements with what the experts think. You might even have thoughts of your own – and there can not be too many things more stimulating for your brain than some honest to gosh thoughts. Maybe you will even be stimulated to produce some of your own art.

2 comments for “Museum brain stimulation

  1. CC
    November 14, 2008 at 9:00 pm

    This piece reminds me of an article suggesting that one can think of religion as ‘hacking’ into our cognitive mind’s need to understand nature, just like arts and music ‘hacks’ into our senses… don’t remember where that article came from anymore… But the idea got stuck in my brain (or mind).

    Has human brain ‘over-evolved’ in the sense that normal stimulations (those from the natural environment) are no longer satisfactory? We actively seek out colors and sounds that are more vibrant and stimulating than the natural environment can offer, in the form of various arts, and find so much enjoyment in such. This is strange – how is such a brain be advantageous and thus evolved this way?

  2. Ward
    November 15, 2008 at 7:47 am


    good comment. Some interesting thoughts. Us humans do seem to seek out more novelty than other organisms – but that could be my human bias.