Beauty and the Brain, Radio 4

radio 4

What makes an artwork beautiful? Radio 4 programme – Beauty and the Brain – Presented by Tiffany Jenkins.

In this programme, I investigate what studying our brains can tell us about art. Can there ever be a recipe for beauty? Or are the great works beyond the powers of neuroscience?

Professor Semir Zeki of University College London, the first person to coin the term neuroaesthetics, tells us about what happens in the brain when people in a scanner see paintings or hear music. Professor Gabi Starr at New York University suggests that she thinks there are parts of the brain that light up when we like an art work, inferring that the experience of great art is universal.

I leave the brain scanners, to visit Christie’s auction house to see if the best art always commands the best prices. Martin Kemp, Emeritus Professor of Art History at Oxford University, unpicks our different responses to authentic paintings and to fakes. But art critic J J Charlesworth is skeptical in regard to the claims made for neuroaesthetics. Charlesworth helps to explain why neuroscience is having an influence in some areas of art appreciation: a vacuum in how we value culture had encouraged some in the arts world to turn to science in search for certainty.

Listen again here.

Here you can read my article in The Scotsman on the question of the brain and beauty Art is more than brain deep.