Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Is The Beauty of a Sculpture in the Brain of the Beholder?

From an article by Cinzia Di Dio, Emiliano Macaluso, and Giacomo Rizzolatti

Is there an objective biological basis for the experience of beauty in
art? Or is aesthetic experience entirely subjective? This question has
been addressed in a paper published in this week's PLoS ONE, Cinzia Di
Dio, Emiliano Macaluso and Giacomo Rizzolatti. The researchers used
fMRI scans to study the neural activity in subjects with no knowledge
of art criticism, who were shown images of Classical and Renaissance

The 'objective' perspective was examined by contrasting images of
Classical and Renaissance sculptures of canonical proportions, with
images of the same sculptures whose proportions were altered to create
a comparable degraded aesthetic value. In terms of brain activations,
this comparison showed that the presence of the "golden ratio" in the
original material activated specific sets of cortical neurons as well
as (crucially) the insula, a structure mediating emotions. This
response was particularly apparent when participants were only required
to observe the stimuli; that is, when the brain reacted most
spontaneously to the images presented.

The 'subjective' perspective was evaluated by contrasting beautiful vs.
ugly sculptures, this time as judged by each participant who decided
whether or not the sculpture was aesthetic. The images judged to be
beautiful selectively activated the right amygdala, a structure that
responds to learned incoming information laden with emotional value.

These results indicate that, in observers naive to art criticism, the
sense of beauty is mediated by two non-mutually exclusive processes:
one is based on a joint activation of sets of cortical neurons,
triggered by parameters intrinsic to the stimuli, and the insula
(objective beauty); the other is based on the activation of the
amygdala, driven by one's own emotional experiences (subjective
beauty). The researchers conclude that both objective and subjective
factors intervene in determining our appreciation of an artwork.

The history of art is replete with the constant tension between
objective values and subjective judgments. This tension is deepened
when artists discover new aesthetic parameters that may appeal for
various reasons, be they related to our biological heritage, or simply
to fashion or novelty. Still, the central question remains: when the
fashion and novelty expire, could their work ever become a permanent
patrimony of humankind without a resonance induced by some biologically
inherent parameters?

To read the entire article and see the actual images that served as test objects, go to:


Article found at:


Friday, July 1, 2011

Rite of Pharmakos

Rite of Pharmakos
Conducted at the seashore, or on the banks of running water that will carry away the ashes,
ultimately to the sea.
Otherwise, the burning of Pharmakos should occur in such as way that the next day the ashes can be gathered and transported to the seashore or a great river.
It must not take place in a temenos-holy precinct, as it involves all the impurities of which we wish to dispose.
At the end of this rite it is appropriate for a special khernips, or handwashing,
before any other thing is set to be done.
Having touched an impure thing, the Pharmakos, one would not wish to handle any sacred thing until purified.
At Athens-
Pharmakos was a real human being, or sometimes two:
a man and a woman,
criminal scapegoat,
condemned to death and chosen for their ugliness.
In other Cities of People there is a simalacrum of two Pharmakoi,
a male and a female effigy,
in difficult years,
a Unisex Pharmakos made up the lack of the City of People.
Pharmakos was crafted with combustible straw and adorned with a necklace of figs:
white figs representing the male,
black figs representing the female.
Unisex Pharmakos donned with both strings of figs woven together.
Pharmakos was then led all around the City of People standing in a circle, facing outward.
Pharmakos is carried around clockwise of the outside of the City of People,
as each person 'puts upon' Pharmakos all those things which he or she considers bad,
which she or he wants out of his or her life, and out of the life of the Tribe.
This 'putting upon' may occur in many ways.
The thing to be disposed of may be written down with the paper then shoved into the body of Pharmakos,
it may be addressed in words to Pharmakos, either silently or out loud.
This is a rite in which the emotions of anger or hatred are perfectly appropriate,
because this is the time for being rid of them.
Rage directed at Pharmakos, as the personification of all the bad things in life, is rage to be exorcised.
Hitting and spitting on Pharmakos is to be expected by all.
As Pharmakos has completely been led throughout the vulgar multitude visibly abused,
it is then strangled and burned.
It's sole purpose is to rid the City of People of primitive and barbaric realities of their lives,
to prevent those things from doing damage during the rest of the year.

When a society provides no real and personal release of the pressures,
which it puts upon its constituents,
there will be explosions,
and the toll will be terrible.