Your Brain On Art – A Brutally Honest Book Review

Science investigates the brain for a discussion about what it’s doing in the realm of experiencing and creating beauty.

“Neuroaesthetics is a field of experimental science that aims to combine (neuro-)psychological research with aesthetics by investigating the “perception, production, and response to art, as well as interactions with objects and scenes that evoke an intense feeling, often of pleasure.”.[5] The recently developed field seeks among other things the neural correlates of aesthetic judgment and creativity. It is argued that visual aesthetics, namely the capacity of assigning different degrees of beauty to certain forms, colors, or movements, is a human trait acquired after the divergence of human and other ape lineages,[6] rendering the experience of beauty a defining characteristic of humankind.[7]


Photo by Fiona Art on

All Art is Propaganda” – George Orwell

I didn’t know who Edward Bernays was until my late thirties. Not surprising it wasn’t covered in the high school curriculum. In his remarkable book titled “Propaganda”, one of the very last chapters is titled “Art & Science”. 

A better title for this book would have been “Simulacra- Your Brain Inside Digital Media”. 

I have to admit, once I caught on to the underlying message behind the presentation of informative studies on neuroaesthetics it made me want to toss the thing into a burn pile. To be fair and honest, I rolled my eyes a lot and was eager for it to be over, but it wasn’t all bad. 

Your Brain On Art is a collaborative piece authored by Ivy Ross and Susan Magsamen. These women are deeply interested in how the body and brain respond to aesthetic experiences, a science known as neuroaesthetics or neuroarts. They outline how this knowledge can be integrated into a new and future culture of art which is seen as a full body mind immersion with technology. 

Quick little background information about these ladies. Ivy Ross is Vice President of Hardware Design at Google and has worked on projects such as Glass (Google X project), a type of smart glasses for the wearer to access ubiquitous computing through the device by voice command. Susan Magsamen founded the International Arts + Mind Lab, a center for applied neuroaesthetics at the Brain Science Institute, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. In this lab, scientists are designing environments, virtual realities, and art immersive experiences to help people enhance the way they live. 

First of all, I think it’s valuable knowledge to know about the brain’s response to not only art, but all of life’s experiences. Research into how the brain and body respond to trauma is very useful in considering different approaches to healing. Putting the data from various brain studies together in a cohesive way tells a fairly accurate story about what’s going on within the spectrum of human experiences.

That being said, it is common sense to know how quintessential cultural arts are in creating a happy healthy human being. From the earliest cave paintings to megalithic architecture and from the Renaissance through Postmodernism, our expression of the story of time is carried forward through a myriad of material manifestations. These extensions of our being define the nature of existence as it is projected onto the world. 

Yet here comes the scientific community and their novel words to describe an ancient faculty of the human experience. It’s funny to me the way the authors of this book are so enamored by their own neurological research that they take a blinded leap into the future of solutions without context as to what’s already been discovered about “Your Brain on Art”. 

Not a single mention or tip of the hat to the great minds who came before that laid out a thesis as to the defining role art plays within the development of a being, a self, a soul. How can you even approach the subject of art’s relationship to creating meaning and purpose in your life without talking about Carl Jung, Joseph Campbell, William Blake, Otto Rank, Immanuel Kant and so many more who were left out. The only minds referenced in this book are from our modern era in the “art and science” community and that of the artificially designed kind of intelligence. 

Despite the oversight on the author’s part, let’s continue. The conversation opens with an encouragement for the reader to explore qualities of an aesthetic mindset. Simply meaning, bringing awareness to your surroundings through sensory input, bringing this information into your inner world and creating meaning with purpose in your life’s experience. You notice colors, smells, tastes, sounds and emotional tonality. The world is seen as an environment of awe and wonder where your curious mind can openly explore and play. 

Strangely, it seems we live in a time of history where the world was not built for the aesthetic experience. How much of what you see in your daily routine was created for the public to experience beauty and connection with nature? What is beauty anyway?  

The experience of art is thought to be subjective, yet there are shared spaces such as schools, hospitals, parks, workplaces and downtowns that we are immersed within that are for the most part aesthetically unimpressive. Think about some of the most exquisite architecture and sculptured art from ancient civilizations and ask yourself what on Earth happened in the last thousand years that cities look more like prisons and institutions than places to grow beautiful thriving cultures.  

Let’s backtrack a little bit before we go flying off into the future solutions that the authors are eager to share with you. Here’s a couple more important questions left out of the conversation.

What happened to the art and music programs in public school? When I was a kid it was required to learn to play an instrument, When my mom was a kid it was required to learn home economics, which was basically a class that focused on the domestic arts of cooking, sewing, cleaning, balancing a checkbook, and general life skills. 

Why are people disconnected from the arts and cultural experiences that are innate conditions to thrive as a human being? Who killed culture? Somewhere down the line there appears to be a disintegration and homogenization. These questions about the etiology of culture are left unanswered in the book.

Rather than dwell on the past to answer these curious questions, the authors bring in solutions to move us all forward into a new world. This quote from the book is the first sentence to make me double take and pause for a moment as I contemplated the choice of words. 

“The arts…trigger the release of neurochemicals, hormones, and endorphins that offer you an emotional release. When you experience virtual reality, read poetry or fiction, see a film or listen to a piece of music, or move your body to dance, to name a few of the many arts, you are biologically changed.”

Your Brain On Art

Can you spot the phrase that is not commonly grouped with the others?

Yeah, maybe I’m just an old gal at a ripe age of 43 but in my day virtual reality was not part of what we classified as “the arts”. Well, times have changed and we live in a world where doctors are prescribing virtual reality immersive experiences that are designed to alleviate a wide variety of ailments including ADHD, PTSD, and autism. VR is even being utilized for relationship counseling, recharging rooms inside of wellness centers, and for burn scar victims to relieve pain during wound dressing.

I’m that mom who was very hesitant to allow gaming systems inside the home. So this concept of using VR as medicine is a little hard to follow. I’m sure it can be a great tool for those who are looking for alternative options, but I don’t think I’ll be gravitating towards putting one of those awkward VR headsets on my brain.  

Here are a few examples of the art exhibits that they thought would be cool to share with the reader. 

A Space for Being 

“An environment built specifically to look at space and physiological reactions.”

Google and your Biometric Data Analysis

An exhibition for the public to experience neuroaesthetic principles. It was the first attempt at such a large-scale analysis of biometrics including variable heart rate, temperature, and respiration. The exhibit measured people’s bodily response to different sensory environments. 

Guests received a personalized data visualization that showed where their bodies felt most at ease based on the biometric info. Here we have the soft integration of “art & science”. The guest was asked to deeply sense what they were feeling within each room and then compare that to what the data says. Well, trust the science because the data doesn’t lie. If you had a bias against one room and it made you want to flee, but the data says that your body was relaxed in that room, then we have a discrepancy. The point they are trying to make here is that we can’t always trust what we feel because it is based on conditioning. The project research outcomes insinuate a disconnect between the participants’ own biology and belief about what they are experiencing, based upon biometric software. 


Lovely image, right? Let’s bring the kiddos to an art exhibit!

This is a collective of street artists who were given a bunch of funding to create immersive art exhibits that engage the guests with various sensory experiences.  I was curious and checked out their website to see what this is all about. Personally, I find it to be a very repulsive style that focuses on degeneracy and abject bizarre themes soon to be made virtual semi-reality. They actually charge you money to come inside and somehow this is supposed to be great for creating meaning about your purpose in life. Uhhh…. We may have a problem here. Look into it for yourself and tell me if this looks like a place where you want to pay money to bring your kids or experience a connection to nature and beauty.  

There were so many more examples in the book of this kind of art-tech, biodigital immersion stuff where we have the white coats of materialism put on a pair of flip flops and tell the audience to look at how cool nature is and to remember what the feeling of awe is all about or how curiosity and play can do wonders for your perspective and quality of life. 

Ugh! Let the mystics and naturalists talk about art, aesthetics and beauty. Stay in your lane and keep it to the facts without this technocratic global village agenda. Undress this conversation (which could have been a great stand alone subject) and let it speak for itself rather than imply these transhumanist’s solutions to a human issue. 

Interestingly, we are still talking about Your Brain On Art. The book is full of information about how the brain and body respond to different art immersive experiences. This includes all the arts from dance, theater, writing, poetry, singing, playing an instrument, sculpting with your hands, and even doodling. These arts are all profoundly essential for a human being’s health and wellbeing. It is the connectivity between our experience of self, the world, and spirit. It’s what creates meaning, values, and culture. 

Seems like deep down inside we all know these things and are even drawn into these artistically expressive behaviors on our own. I don’t think we need aesthetic interventions coming in from the minds of Google or any other collective think tank who idealizes the immersion of humans into machines. In other words, transhumanism is the direction that our civilization is being thrust into. It’s the job of every good propagandist to sway public opinion and prepare the collective body for a new paradigm. That’s what this book is about. It’s wetting your appetite to allow more biohacking and to become food for the AI. Do you want to live in a simulacra?

My unsolicited advice is to be in awe of nature, create beauty and deeply sense the reality that we share for what it is. Meaning is created from within, no VR headset required. When I was a kid, we created virtual realities in our own imaginative minds. 

Another point to consider is that we don’t really know the long term effects of using these technologies over generations. I would argue that it is only widening the schism between nature and the embodied human experience. 

You have a choice though. You decide how much of the new world of biodigital immersion you want to engage with. It really does feel like this is becoming a dividing line between humans. Those who embrace the panopticon hive mind collective and those who pray for the Sun to reset civilization before we all become assimilated into code. 

Give this book a read for yourself, now that you know what you’re getting into. Or better yet, read William Blake if you want to know about art, imagination and the human experience.


“…our physical real world will merge more with virtual ones with increasing seamlessness and fluidity. Mixed reality will become more commonplace. You are already beginning to see this in simple ways, such as the many filters that can change your appearance on your phone or social media, or that put you in another virtual location instantly.”

Your Brain On Art

Thanks for Reading My Review!

Check Out the North Gate Book Club where I’ve been posting chapter reviews of a book titled Your Body Keeps the Score and many more to come.

One Comment Add yours

  1. Thank you for your insightful and well presented review. Thank you again.

    Liked by 1 person

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