The eye, the mind, the heart

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Heat mapping shows how the eye perceives the two buildings. (geneticsofdesign.com)

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so sayeth just about everyone, but how does the mind influence what the eye of the beholder sees? If the eye informs the brain and the brain informs the taste, then there must be something deeper than whim informing people of what they think is beautiful in architecture.

Ann Sussman, who has given much thought to the matter and, in her 2015 book Cognitive Architecture, written with Justin Hollander, has assembled research by scientists and others sniffing down that road, will be speaking next Thursday in Boston at an event sponsored by the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art. The event opens at 6 p.m. at the College Club of Boston at 44 Commonwealth Ave. Tickets are $25 for ICAA members and $40 for others.

As described by the chapter, Sussman’s presentation will:

review new findings in biology and neuroscience that outline what our brain expects to see, including how it’s hard-wired to avoid looking at blank facades, most quickly processes bilaterally symmetric things – and is preset to look for faces or face-like objects without any conscious input on our part.

Naturally, this is music to the ears of the classical revival, whose advocates (including me) often find themselves without an effective response to the claim that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. The answer often emerges as “Yes, but …” – Sussman provides the details for an effective rejoinder to that classic modernist dodge.

Learn more and purchase tickets at the New England chapter website.

About David Brussat

For a living, I edit the writing of some of the nation's leading architects, urbanists and design theorists. This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. My freelance writing and editing on that topic and others addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts, and a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to invest your prose with even more style and clarity, please email me at my consultancy, dbrussat@gmail.com, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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2 Responses to The eye, the mind, the heart

  1. steve bass says:

    David –

    Of course for the classicist beauty is not in the eye of the beholder – that is a dismissal, an Enlightenment dodge designed to prevent the discussion of beauty. However we should not look to modern reductionist science to save us – perhaps the scientists can find out how or to what we physically respond more strongly but that should not be confused with Beauty which is metaphysical; and while subject to rational investigation is not within in the realm of modern science. Beauty is not in the numbers, the buildings or the neurons – it is a joyous state of the psyche when it is reminded of Unity. Our society will make no progress on this subject until enough of us insist that there is more to human existence than meets the ‘eye of the beholder’, regardless of what we choose to call it.
    Meanwhile, thanks for the post and enjoy the lecture.

    Steve B

    Like

    • Steve, of course you are correct but try making that argument to the man in the street, or the woman looking at Piss Christ. So I reach out to science as an ally in seeking support for a deeper truth. Any port in a storm, eh wot?

      Like

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