A new fun device to illustrate the effects of art on the brain

How does art affect the brain? This is a question that Art Fund, the British charity which raises funds to help museums buy works, wanted to explore. To answer this, the organization commissioned a device that draws in real time the impact of a work of art on the brain waves of a museum visitor. In this device, the user walks through a museum and observes the works, a headset placed on his head allows an electroencephalogram to record the electrical activity of his brain. These waves are interpreted instantly on a screen in the form of three-dimensional images.

These images take the form of ribbons that circulate on a screen, before describing rapid, large-scale undulating movements from the moment the visitor lays their eyes on something that they find beautiful or that makes them react. “When a user is challenged by a painting, the ribbons become wider, or when trying to make sense of something confusing, the ribbons begin to curl and weave, explains Will MacNeil, creative director of The Mill, the company that designed the special effects with the help of an artist (Seph Li). When the viewer sees something they recognize, bright highlights appear. »

View of the waves generated by observing a Van Gogh painting.

© Art Fund / Hydar Dewachi

A recent test of visitors to the Courtauld Gallery in London showed that different artworks have a different impact on visitors. For example, theSelf-portrait with bandaged ear by Van Gogh (1882) generates a different brain wave pattern than that of Shell Building Site by Leon Kossoff (1962).

This experiment has no scientific purpose. While Art Fund offers a discount card for going to museums, the organization does not hide the small communication boost that this initiative represents. “We want to encourage everyone to share art and culture, emphasizes director Jenny Waldman. By visualizing how engaging with amazing works of art and objects can truly impact us, we hope to inspire more people to explore museums close to home. » Research commissioned by the Art Fund reveals that while 95% of British adults agree that visiting museums and galleries is beneficial, four in ten visit less than once a year. 16% of those questioned even believe that art has no impact on them.

This device will be available in several museums in the United Kingdom in 2024. The final list of institutions participating in the project should be published early next year.

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