I Beg Of You, Please Stop Saying ‘This Isn’t Art’

One person gazes into a tranquil painting of water lilies by Claude Monet and can’t help but well up with tears. Another, unmoved by Impressionism, stares at a bawdy self-portrait by Cindy Sherman and feels transfixed. Someone else is still bored with both, preoccupied with a bit of three-dimensional chalk art made to look like gummy bears.

You see, we humans are capable of having very, very different tastes in art.

If you took an intro philosophy course in college, you are probably familiar with Immanuel Kant’s friendly ol’ theory on aesthetics. In short, the 18th-century Prussian writer thought that beauty was not a property of artwork, but rather part of a viewer’s emotional response to a particular artwork. So, yeah, beauty is subjective.

But Kant also asserts that just as our idea of beauty — or, more specifically, our judgment of taste — is subjective, it’s also universal, in so far as anyone can appreciate beauty without needing to find a use for it. At the end of the day, we all have a capacity to be moved by art, of one kind or another. Something will pique our interest, satiate our artsy appetite. It’s just — the chances are that one man’s trashy art is another man’s masterpiece.

Take it from researchers Edward A. Vessel, G. Gabrielle Starr and Nava Rubin. In a recent study published in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, the three explored this idea — that while individual people have strong reactions to very different sets of images and works, the ability and desire to be aesthetically moved by art, music, or literature appears to be universal across human beings.

Curious about this apparent paradox, Vessel et al. decided to take a look inside the brain.

To do so, the team had 16 subjects (11 male, —> Read More