Abstraction and the artistic brain: a neuroanthropological account of spiritual symbolism in traditional and modern art



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[January 30, 2002]


ABSTRACTION AND THE ARTISTIC BRAIN:

A NEUROANTHROPOLOGICAL ACCOUNT OF SPIRITUAL SYMBOLISM

IN TRADITIONAL AND MODERN ART

by
Charles D. Laughlin, Ph.D.*





Abstract: The quality of abstraction in both traditional and modern art has long been a topic of interest to both art theorists and symbolic anthropologists. This paper offers an explanation of the process of abstraction in spiritual symbolism and art grounded in biogenetic structural theory. While not denying the importance of the studies of the history of art styles, this model provides an alternative a-historical, developmental and neuroanthropological perspective on the process of abstraction which pervades all forms of art, including all forms of so-called “representational” art. The type of abstraction in symbolism depends upon the focus of the artist along a continuum ranging from object orientation to orientation upon the artist’s internal structural processes and properties. If one moves far enough “inwards” in reflexive art, the concern for the external object may drop away. A neurocognitive model is developed that essentially supports Wassily Kandinsky’s contention that abstraction is the expression of an “inner necessity.” Highly abstract themes in traditional and modern art may actually be the veridical expression of internal structures encountered during spiritual experiences.


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