Charles Butter is Emeritus Professor of Psychology and
Neuroscience, at the University
of Michigan (Ann Arbor). He
has taught and performed research on brain, behavior and mental
processes at the University
of Michigan for
38 years. His research interests include brain mechanisms of visual
attention and space perception, brain control of emotional behavior
(see Curriculum vitae). He has
conducted this research in monkeys and in humans with brain damage
following stroke and Alzheimer's Disease.
Announcing the publication of Charles M. Butter's CROSSING CULTURAL BORDERS UNIVERSALS IN ART AND THEIR BIOLOGICAL ROOTS, a book written for art lovers. It describes in non-technical terms how artists from prehistoric to modern times have exploited brain systems that evolved for survival to create art that viewers around the world admire today. This neuroesthetic approach to art offers new insights into several universal aspects of art and suggests new solutions to old puzzles, for example: Why is balance around the center pleasing? How do viewers recognize movement, emotional states and intentions in persons depicted in art? Why is variety in unity (diversity of colors and forms organized in patterns) a universal principle in decorative art? How do artists use their visual memory and mental imagery in creating art? This book, published by CreateSpace, is available through its Web site or through Amazon.com by entering my full name (above). It includes 52 works of art from cultures around the world and from prehistoric to modern times. The author is a retired professor of psychology and neuroscience; he has studied brain systems responsible for vision, social behavior and emotion.
CROSSING CULTURAL BORDERS Universals in Art and Their Biological Roots
CreateSpace (144 pp.)
May 10, 2011
A smart, accessible read exploring the links between art and biology.
Drawing on more than 40 years of research in brain and behavior at the National Institutes of Health and the University of Michigan, Butter (Neuropsychology: The Study of Brain and Behavior, 1969) explores the science behind universal themes in art. Long a collector of modern art, the author outlines the biological components that, together with cultural and environmental influences, drive our creation and understanding of art and visual archetypes. Opening with an essay by U.K. artist Stan Rosenthal, the book explores topics such as why humans find symmetrical faces attractive, how drawings by autistic children depict their enhanced understanding of animal liveliness and perspective, and why humans enjoy seeing “variety in unity” in objects such as textiles, which arrange varied colors and forms in unifying patterns. Butter pairs each topic with visual examples and a full scientific explanation, succinctly describing complex ideas concerning neuroscience in accessible language. In a segment describing visual symbols, the book uses as an example the apple, which Renaissance artists considered a metaphor for beauty and erotic love. To create such a symbol, the mind forges an image-as-idea establishment through neural networks that collectively encode sensory input such as a feeling or idea activated by a certain stimulus. The more often humans see that object and conjure up the same connotations, the more likely that object will become an enduring symbol. The author provides a pleasant scientific counterpart to philosophical interpretations of art, although readers may find the book more useful as an introductory survey rather than as a comprehensive source. Each chapter concludes with a large collection of end notes for additional reading, helpfully pointing out which books would be suitable for a nonacademic audience.
Readers curious about the scientific mechanics of art will find an enjoyable guide in this book.
Kirkus Indie, Kirkus Media LLC,
6411 Burleson Rd.
Austin, TX 78744
REVIEW ON Amazon.com
Delightful encapsulation of the science of art, July 30, 2011
By Kent Berridge (Ann Arbor, MI United States)
Charles M. Butter's Crossing Cultural Borders: Universals in Art and their Biological Roots merges powerful tools of neuropsychology and cognitive psychology with sophisticated artistic appreciation in this fascinating answer to an age-old question: What makes art beautiful? Butter brings a unique perspective as both a collector of art and a distinguished neuropsychologist to this tour that ranges from Mesoamerican art and Pende masks of Zaire to the Tang dynasty of China and to Rembrandt, Matisse and Magritte. The artistic roles of balance, perceptual coherence, emotion, social relationships, and imagery are all explored here, and informed by neuroscience from sources that include spatial neglect after cortical injury, autism, and by the cognitive psychology of mental networks and analogy reasoning.