The Science of the Arts: Johns Hopkins Brain Sciences Institute Launches Public Lecture Series on Sensory Science and the Arts
The public is invited to join renowned brain researchers, artists, musicians, architects, educators, historians and curators for a series of conversations about the creative process and the basic science underlying aesthetics and beauty.
Organizers of The Science of the Arts speaker series say the goal of the event is to share information and focus questions about how the brain processes, responds to and creates art. Developed by the Johns Hopkins Brain Science Institute (BSi) in collaboration with the Walters Art Museum, the program explores one of the defining characteristics of what it means to be human — an appreciation and understanding of the arts.
The series, to be moderated by National Public Radio arts and science correspondent Jon Hamilton, is designed to stimulate new approaches to the emerging field of perceptual neuroscience and aesthetics using six collaborative conversations among researchers, architects, choreographers, painters, musicians and composers.
Speakers will explore how sensory systems operate and examine how people might come to define their perception of what is beautiful and how these perceptions take on the emotional value and cultural associations that form aesthetic experiences.
Examples include the power of faces and the human form to ignite emotional responses; the role of form and function in architecture and the brain’s capacity for perceiving form and function in parallel with three-dimensional spatial representation; and the neural basis of creativity and meaning expressed through music and dance.
“The artifacts of early man suggest that our ancestors were moved by images, forms, sounds and movements, and in a world of subsistence, put effort and resources into their art.” says John (Jack) Griffin, M.D., director of the Brain Science Institute, in announcing this new initiative. “For centuries, philosophers have speculated on the links between perception, beauty, creativity and pleasure, and in recent years, scientists have learned a great deal about sensory systems.”
“These themes,” Griffin adds, “have implications for our daily lives.” Imagine, he says, “being able to design a classroom that enhances learning or a hospital that facilitates even greater healing.”
Griffin says that although basic perceptual neuroscience research is in its infancy, programs like The Science of the Arts series will help to frame the questions that need to be addressed through interdisciplinary research.
Opening the two-day event, Walters Art Museum director Gary Vikan, Ph.D., will host a reception, dinner and lecture on Oct. 19 at The Walters Art Museum featuring Dr. Semir Zeki of University College London about the origins, history and future of neuro-aesthetics. Musicians from the Baltimore Choral Arts Society and Peabody Institute will also perform. “It’s a great honor for the Walters, whose collections go back to ancient Egypt, to be part of an exploration with the Brain Science Institute at the very frontier of the study of the mind — a frontier where beauty and the brain intersect,” says Vikan.
On Oct. 20, the American Visionary Art Museum’s James Rouse Visionary Center will be the backdrop for additional researcher and artist discussions. These include:
- Visual Art and Color with Jeremy Nathans, M.D., Ph.D., a molecular biologist and geneticist at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine; Margaret Livingstone, Ph.D., from Harvard University; and painter William Stoehr
- Spatial Representation and Architecture with David Foster, Ph.D, an assistant professor in the Solomon H. Snyder Department of Neuroscience at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine; Amy Shelton, Ph.D., a researcher at the Johns Hopkins University Zanvyl Krieger School of Arts and Sciences; Tom Kundig of Olson Kundig Architects; and Russell Epstein, Ph.D., of the University of Pennsylvania
- Harmonic Representation and Musical Pitch with Xiaoqin Wang, Ph.D., professor of biomedical engineering, neuroscience and otolaryngology and director of the Laboratory of Auditory Neurophysiology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine; Robert Zatorre, Ph.D., from McGill University; and internationally acclaimed pianist Leon Fleisher
- Neural Mechanisms of Musical Improvisation with Charles Limb, M.D., associate professor of otolaryngology – head and neck surgery at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and a faculty member with the Johns Hopkins University’s Peabody Conservatory of Music; jazz musician Mike Pope; and Marin Alsop, music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. Renowned jazz musician Pat Metheny will join this session to share his thoughts on improvisation in his work.
A cocktail reception and tour of the mega-exhibition “What Makes Us Smile” by museum director and founder Rebecca Hoffberger and Johns Hopkins neuroscientist Solomon Snyder, M.D. , Distinguished Service Professor of Neuroscience, Pharmacology and Psychiatry, is planned at the American Visionary Arts Museum.
On Oct. 21, The Baltimore Museum of Art will host the final two talks, concluding with a panel discussion with prominent researchers, artists and experts. Researcher and artists talks include:
- Motor System and Dance with Amy Bastian, Ph.D., a neuroscientist at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and the Kennedy Krieger Institute; Scott Grafton, M.D., of the University of California Santa Barbara; and choreographer Jonah Bokaer.
- Form Perception and Design with Ed Connor, Ph.D., a neuroscientist at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine; Anjan Chatterjee, M.D., of the University of Pennsylvania; and sculptor David Hess.
The Science of the Arts will conclude with a panel discussion moderated by Tom Hall, WYPR arts and culture editor and music director of the Baltimore Choral Arts Society, and BSI Director Griffin. The Future of a New Field: Questions, Directions and Debate panelists include Walters Director Vikan; University College London’s Zeki; composer Michael Hersch of the Johns Hopkins University Peabody Institute; Barbara Landau, Ph.D., Cognitive Science Department chair at The Johns Hopkins University; neuroscientist Steven Hsiao, Ph.D., of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine; Mellasenah Y. Morris, dean of the Peabody Conservatory/deputy director; James Olson of Olson Kundig Architects; John Eberhard, founding president of the Academy of Neuroscience for Architecture; Michael Miller of the Johns Hopkins University School of Engineering; Kay Jamison, Ph.D., Dalio Family Professor in Mood Disorders and co-director of the Johns Hopkins Mood Disorders Center; and Mary Ann Mears, an artist with the Arts Education in Maryland Schools Alliance.
Johns Hopkins Brain Science Institute (BSI) was created in 2007 to foster innovative research programs in basic neuroscience discovery, new treatments for brain-based diseases and translational research through interdisciplinary collaborative approaches.