Arts and science combine to explain the mystery of how we see art

Posted by pt91 at Feb 24, 2011 10:10 AM |
University academics working with Argentine artist Mariano Molina
Arts and science combine to explain the mystery of how we see art

'The center of gaze', a previous work by Mariano Molina in collaboration with Professor Quian Quiroga.

Issued on University of Leicester Press Office on 24 February 2011

When we look at a picture or a piece of sculpture, how do we perceive it?   What is so special about it? What processes in our brain lead us to appreciate and enjoy a piece of art in a museum?

University of Leicester Professor of Bioengineering Rodrigo Quian Quiroga has received a grant of £30K from the “Beyond Text” initiative of the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) to enable him to continue his quest into these fascinating mysteries in the company of Dr Sandra Dudley, expert in material and visual culture and the senses in Leicester’s School of Museum Studies, and with the renowned Argentine artist, Mariano Molina.

“The links between science and arts have so far been very limited,” said Professor Quian Quiroga, whose discovery of a type of neuron in the brain which fires in an ‘abstract’ manner to different pictures of familiar persons, including celebrities like Jennifer Aniston or Halle Berry, has been internationally acclaimed, and whose work has also indicated that it is possible to tell what people are seeing from their neuronal activity.  

“However, it is very interesting that visual artists have long been aware (at least intuitively) of some principles of visual perception in Neuroscience. For example, Neuroscientists study issues such as colour, shape and depth perception, which are well-known in Arts. In this respect, the basic idea of our project is to combine knowledge about visual perception from arts and neuroscience and create an exhibition showing the principles involved.

“Our goal is not only to create novel art pieces, but also to use these canvases as an engaging way to show these neuroscience principles to the general public; principles that explain something as interesting as how we see.”

The artist Mariano Molina will create a set of canvases demonstrating principles of visual perception, together with a simple explanation of each neuroscience principle used.

He commented:   “The opportunity is extraordinary. I am excited to start conceiving new art pieces using knowledge from neuroscience research, mixing it with all the resources and skills that I have learnt from years of practicing visual arts.”

The project will culminate in an “Arts & Science” exhibition in the autumn.

Dr Sandra Dudley said: “This is a further exciting direction in our interdisciplinary collaborations, adding art practice to an already radical mix of approaches to understanding what happens when people encounter objects on display.”

The exhibition continues the work Professor Quian Quiroga and Dr Dudley have already begun in a project entitled ‘Perception and wellbeing: a cross-disciplinary approach to experiencing art in the museum’, also supported by the AHRC’s ‘Beyond Text’ initiative and the Art Fund, and a previous visit of Mariano Molina to Professor Quian Quiroga’s lab supported by the Leverhulme Trust. This project has already attracted a great deal of media attention, most recently as part of a documentary by Channel 4, to be shown this summer.

They feel that the time is right to mount an exhibition making these links between neuroscience and the arts through research that is ground-breaking as well as fascinating.

Notes to Editors: Further details are available from Rodrigo Quian Quiroga, Professor of Bioengineering, Department of Engineering, University of Leicester, tel +44 (0)116 252 2314 / 2872, email or on the website:

Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC): Each year the AHRC provides approximately £112 million from the Government to support research and postgraduate study in the arts and humanities, from languages and law, archaeology and English literature to design and creative and performing arts. In any one year, the AHRC makes approximately 700 research awards and around 1,300 postgraduate awards. Awards are made after a rigorous peer review process, to ensure that only applications of the highest quality are funded. The quality and range of research supported by this investment of public funds not only provides social and cultural benefits but also contributes to the economic success of the UK.

The Beyond Text research programme aims to support a multidisciplinary community of scholars and practitioners drawn from Higher Education, museums, galleries, libraries, business, policy, media, technology and the law to explore the ways in which communication is articulated, transmitted, received and controlled. It also aims to enhance the connections between those who make and preserve works, and those who study them.  Beyond Text centres on five thematic, interdisciplinary areas: Making and Unmaking; Performance, Improvisation and Embodied Knowledge; Technology, Innovation and Tradition; mediations; Transmission and Memory. These themes provide a framework to investigate the formation and transformations of performances, sounds, images, and objects in a wide field of social, historical and geographical contexts, tracing their reception, assimilation and adaptation across temporal and cultural boundaries. The programme has a budget of £5.5 million over 5 years and runs from 2007 to 2012.

Share this page: