Beauty and The Brain

April 17, 2014

The enchanted path at Gaudineer Knob, WV ©Steve Payne 2012

A graceful path into the woods on Gaudineer Knob in West Virginia.


How do you feel when you look at a photograph of a loved one, or special place that brings back memories? Do you feel that rush of blood to your brain, that makes you feel warm and secure? It’s pretty obvious that the effects of art on the brain can make us feel good. We put it on our walls so that we can see it everyday, and spend hard earned cash to do so.

Sometimes it even appreciates, and we can sell it at a profit. But, I don’t think that’s why the majority of us have art in our lives. No, I believe it’s for the memories, of people, places and things, the times and feelings that enriched our lives, if even for a moment.


As in the 70’s pop hit “The TImes of Your Life” by Paul Anka:

“Good morning, yesterday. You wake up and time has slipped away. And suddenly it's hard to find. The memories you left behind. Remember, do you remember?”

Over the years I’ve been fortunate to put a lot of art, in the form of my photography, into my clients lives. They often tell me how much they appreciate and value having portraits to relive memories of their children as they grow, or just celebrate the beauty of the world with a landscape photograph.

Often, I am asked to enhance my clients' office and commercial spaces with my photography, which has become a major part of my business over the past ten years. To see the transformation that a well thought out design of properly framed photographs can have on a formerly mundane space is pretty cool indeed. The effect on office workers is always positive, “it’s like they installed windows! Thank you!” They will also comment on how much more peaceful and pleasant the space is after we’re done.

So, this study completed a couple of years ago, which I just discovered, made a lot of sense to me. Professor Semir Zeki, chair in neuroaesthetics at University College London, conducted the experiment.

"We wanted to see what happens in the brain when you look at beautiful paintings. What we found is when you look at art – whether it is a landscape, a still life, an abstract or a portrait – there is strong activity in that part of the brain related to pleasure.

"We put people in a scanner and showed them a series of paintings every ten seconds. We then measured the change in blood flow in one part of the brain.

"The reaction was immediate. What we found was the increase in blood flow was in proportion to how much the painting was liked. The blood flow increased for a beautiful painting just as it increases when you look at somebody you love. It tells us art induces a feel good sensation direct to the brain."


Note: Some folks ask why I don’t allow comments? The simple truth is, that I’m still a working photographer, and have a family, am involved in my church and other community activities, and, I love to play golf! I just don’t have the time to deal with it. But, if you see me in person, you can talk my ear off about photography, business, golf, yoga, cars, faith, art, design, or just life! I would love to meet you! Peace, SP

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