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Concept: Figurative art


The role of the motor system in the perception of visual art remains to be better understood. Earlier studies on the visual perception of abstract art (from Gestalt theory, as in Arnheim, 1954 and 1988, to balance preference studies as in Locher and Stappers, 2002, and more recent work by Locher et al., 2007; Redies, 2007, and Taylor et al., 2011), neglected the question, while the field of neuroesthetics (Ramachandran and Hirstein, 1999; Zeki, 1999) mostly concentrated on figurative works. Much recent work has demonstrated the multimodality of vision, encompassing the activation of motor, somatosensory, and viscero-motor brain regions. The present study investigated whether the observation of high-resolution digitized static images of abstract paintings by Lucio Fontana is associated with specific cortical motor activation in the beholder’s brain. Mu rhythm suppression was evoked by the observation of original art works but not by control stimuli (as in the case of graphically modified versions of these works). Most interestingly, previous visual exposure to the stimuli did not affect the mu rhythm suppression induced by their observation. The present results clearly show the involvement of the cortical motor system in the viewing of static abstract art works.

Concepts: Brain, Visual perception, Perception, History of painting, Abstract art, Modernism, Figurative art, Western painting


Figurative artists spend years practicing their skills, analyzing objects, and scenes in order to reproduce them accurately. In their drawings, they must depict distant objects as smaller and shadowed surfaces as darker, just as they are at the level of the retinal image. However, this retinal representation is not what we consciously see. Instead, the visual system corrects for distance, changes in ambient illumination and view-point so that our conscious percept of the world remains stable. Does extensive experience modify an artist’s visual system so that he or she can access this retinal, veridical image better than a non-artist? We have conducted three experiments testing artists' perceptual abilities and comparing them to those of non-artists. The subjects first attempted to match the size or the luminance of a test stimulus to a standard that could be presented either on a perspective grid (size) or within a cast shadow. They were explicitly instructed to ignore these surrounding contexts and to judge the stimulus as if it were seen in isolation. Finally, in a third task, the subjects searched for an L-shape that either contacted or did not contact an adjacent circle. When in contact, the L-shape appeared as an occluded square behind a circle. This high-level completion camouflaged the L-shape unless subjects could access the raw image. However, in all these tasks, artists were as much affected by visual context as novices. We concluded that artists have no special abilities to access early, non-corrected visual representations and that better accuracy in artists' drawings cannot be attributed to the effects of expertise on early visual processes.

Concepts: Retina, Sense, Mind, Consciousness, Qualia, Philosophy of perception, Figurative art, Representation


Art preferences are affected by a number of subjective factors. This paper reports two studies which investigated whether need for closure shapes implicit art preferences. It was predicted that higher need for closure would negatively affect implicit preferences for abstract art. In study one, 60 participants were tested for dispositional need for closure and then completed an Implicit Association Test (IAT) task to measure their implicit preference for abstract (vs. figurative) paintings. In study two, 54 participants completed the same IAT task. In this experiment need for closure was both manipulated by cognitive load and tapped as a dispositional trait. Results of the studies converged in showing that after controlling for other important individual factors such as participants'expertise and cognitive ability, need for closure, both as a dispositional trait and as a situationally induced motivational state, was negatively associated with implicit preference for abstract art.

Concepts: Psychology, Affect, Cognition, Educational psychology, Motivation, Object, Abstract art, Figurative art


Reflective capacity is integral to core healthcare professional practice competencies. Reflection plays a central role in teacher education as reflecting on teaching behaviours with critical analysis can potentially improve teaching practice. The humanities including narrative and the visual arts can serve as a valuable tool for fostering reflection. We conducted a multinational faculty development workshop aiming to enhance reflective capacity in medical educators by using a combination of abstract paintings and narratives. Twenty-three family physicians or physicians-in-training from 10 countries participated in the workshop. Qualitative assessment of the workshop showed that the combined use of art and narrative was well received and perceived as contributing to the reflective exercise. Participants generally felt that viewing abstract paintings had facilitated a valuable mood transformation and prepared them emotionally for the reflective writing. Our analysis found that the following themes emerged from participants' responses: (1) narratives from different countries are similar; (2) the use of art helped access feelings; (3) viewing abstract paintings facilitated next steps; (4) writing reflective narratives promoted examination of educational challenges, compassion for self and other, and building an action plan; and (5) sharing of narrative was helpful for fostering active listening and appreciating multiple perspectives. Future research might include comparing outcomes for a group participating in arts-narrative-based workshops with those of a control group using only reflective narrative or in combination with figurative art, and implementing a combination of qualitative and quantitative methods of assessment.

Concepts: Scientific method, Psychology, Education, Qualitative research, Social sciences, Humanities, Abstract art, Figurative art


Among the earliest Homo sapiens societies in Eurasia, the Aurignacian phase of the Early Upper Palaeolithic, approximately 40,000-30,000 uncal. BP, mammoth ivory assumed great social and economic significance, and was used to create hundreds of personal ornaments as well as the earliest known works of three-dimensional figurative art in the world. This paper reports on the results of micro-PIXE/PIGE analyses of mammoth-ivory artefacts and debris from five major sites of Aurignacian ivory use. Patterns of variable F-content indicate regionally-distinct strategies of ivory procurement that correspond to apparent differences in human-mammoth interactions. Preserved trace elements (Br, Sr, Zn) indicate that differences at the regional level are applicable to sourcing Palaeolithic ivory at the regional scale.

Concepts: Human, Neanderthal, Pleistocene, Prehistory, Figurative art, Ivory, Archaeological site


Physical quantities differ from abstract numbers and mathematics, but recent results are revealing the neural representation of both: a new study demonstrates how an absence of quantity is transformed into a representation of zero as a number.

Concepts: Mathematics, Number, Real number, Natural number, Physical property, Grammatical number, Figurative art, Physical quantity


By using semantic figurative metaphors, a visualization designer invests in a more figurative graphic representation, seeking provocative perspectives on common topics and trying to invoke emotional responses while clearly communicating meaningful data stories. The use of figurative metaphors in visualization, however, involves adding nondata aspects to a visualization. The authors survey this exploratory side of visualization, using a visualization of Lisbon traffic data as a system of pulsing blood vessels as an example, and discuss the strengths and limitations of such as approach.

Concepts: Blood, Blood vessel, Semantics, Information, Emotion, Graphic design, Figurative art, Representation


Over the last decade, researchers have sought to understand the brain mechanisms involved in the appreciation of art. Previous studies reported an increased activity in sensory processing regions for artworks that participants find more appealing. Here we investigated the intriguing possibility that activity in cortical area V5-a region in the occipital cortex mediating physical and implied motion detection-is related not only to the generation of a sense of motion from visual cues used in artworks, but also to the appreciation of those artworks. Art-naïve participants viewed a series of paintings and quickly judged whether or not the paintings conveyed a sense of motion, and whether or not they liked them. Triple-pulse TMS applied over V5 while viewing the paintings significantly decreased the perceived sense of motion, and also significantly reduced liking of abstract (but not representational) paintings. Our data demonstrate that V5 is involved in extracting motion information even when the objects whose motion is implied are pictorial representations (as opposed to photographs or film frames), and even in the absence of any figurative content. Moreover, our study suggests that, in the case of untrained people, V5 activity plays a causal role in the appreciation of abstract but not of representational art.

Concepts: Brain, Human brain, Cerebral cortex, Cerebrum, Perception, Sensory system, Sense, Figurative art