This Art Museum Hired a Neuroscientist to Change the Way We Look at Art

Hav­ing a sci­ent­ist on staff might be a new devel­op­ment, but the machinery of vision—and the rela­tion­ship between sen­sa­tion and perception—has vexed art lov­ers for mil­len­nia. In Art and Illu­sion (1960), Ernst Gom­brich tells of a Pythagorean sage who, upon con­sid­er­ing the case of a cloud that resembles a cen­taur or stag ante­lope, sur­mised that per­cep­tion is a cre­at­ive act on the part of the behold­er. Or, as Gom­brich put it: “What we read into these acci­dent­al shapes depends on our capa­city to recog­nize in them things or images we find stored in our minds.” Thus, an image is not an index of the mater­i­al world but a func­tion of the brain.”