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From Aristotle and Pliny to Baxandall and Zeki

John Onians

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This provocative book offers a fascinating account of neuroarthistory, one of the newest and most exciting fields in the human sciences. In recent decades there has been a dramatic increase in our knowledge of the visual brain. Knowledge of phenomena such as neural plasticity and neural mirroring is making it possible to answer with a new level of precision some of the most challenging questions about both the creative process and the response to art.

Exploring the writings of major thinkers (among them Montesquieu, Burke, Kant, Marx and Freud), and leading art historians (including Pliny, Winckelmann, Ruskin, Pater, Gombrich and Baxandall), as well as artists such as Alberti and Leonardo and scientists from Aristotle to Zeki, John Onians shows how an understanding of the neural basis of the mind contributes to an understanding of all human behaviors—including art.


John Onians recently retired as director of the World Art Research Programme in the School of World Art Studies at the University of East Anglia and is the former director of Research and Academic Programs at the Clark Art Institute.

'A book that changes everything' - David Carrier, Champney Family Professor, Case Western Reserve University and the Cleveland Institute of Art

"Onians demonstrates how neuroscience and philosophy can profoundly deepen our understanding of art. Onians' approach is both interdisciplinary and historical, taking the form of a series of investigations into the theories of famous thinkers. . . . Taken together, these diverse thinkers remind us that our concern with the convergence of art and the mind existed long before the MRI."—Seed Magazine

"A challenging examination of why art is so widespread—and why its manifestations are both so similar and so varied."—Scientific American

"In this provocative and ambitious book, John Onians proposes to lay the ground for a comprehensive neuroarthistory, that is, an attempt to understand artworks and the views of art historians in terms of the workings of the brain. . . . Onions has done us a service in bringing some historical perspective to current debates about the relevance of cognitive science to art."—Mark Rollins, Art Bulletin
ISBN: 9780300126778
Publication Date: March 19, 2008
192 pages, 6 x 9
50 b/w illus.
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