Nov. 15, 2021

When neurobiology and psychology visit an art gallery

Nickle Galleries presents a community lecture by Oshin Vartanian in collaboration with Contemporary Calgary
Oshin Vartanian
Oshin Vartanian will give the talk Beauty and the Brain: The Neurobiology and Psychology of Aesthetic Appreciation, on Nov. 17.

A curious relationship exists between visual art and our brains. Art impacts brain function, thinking and emotions, and our brain influences our perceptions of beauty, our preferences in art and the meaning and relevance we ascribe to it. It’s a relationship exquisitely affirming our individuality and the uniqueness of how we view and react to art.

Dr. Oshin Vartanian, PhD, examines differences between representational and non-representational art and discusses how “context” influences how we experience and value art. Learn how the brain responds when art created by great masters is presented versus computer-generated art; how the brain responds to authenticated art versus forgeries; and how we respond differently to art seen in and outside museum settings. The beauty of the brain and in art is ours to know.

Bust & Picture Frame, acrylic on canvas

Bust & Picture Frame, acrylic on canvas, 2015, by Calgary visual artist Chris Cran, whose work is included in Everywhere We Are Part II.

Vartanian’s talk, Beauty and the Brain: The Neurobiology and Psychology of Aesthetic Appreciation, is part of Nickle Galleries’ community partnership with Contemporary Calgary that is centred around the exhibition Everywhere We Are. When the exhibition first opened in January 2020, the intent was to present several months of related lectures and programs before the second iteration of the exhibition opened that fall at Contemporary Calgary. As the COVID-19 pandemic changed plans, both galleries closed exhibition spaces, shifted some joint programming online and worked together to extend scheduling until Everywhere We Are: Part II opened in October 2021.

Drawing from one of the most significant private collections of contemporary art in Canada, Everywhere We Are has been an ambitious undertaking of exhibitions and public programs addressing many of the merits, impacts and advantages associated with art collecting, along with its inherent challenges.

As Beauty and the Brain demonstrates, art appreciation is aligned with many far-ranging studies of human behaviour and interaction. Vartanian is an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Toronto.

Nickle Galleries opened to visitors in late summer, offering in-person visits to current exhibitions Mary Shannon Will: People, Places and Things, and Inside and Out: Musings on Life in 2020 (and 2021), while the popular Nickle at Noon program continues to reach audiences online and through the Nickle’s YouTube channel.

“We are very fortunate to be a contributing part of this vibrant art community, and able to create such collaborations as Everywhere We Are,” says Christine Sowiak, chief curator of Nickle Galleries. “We bring the diverse strengths of UCalgary to this community in our exhibitions in programs, and being part of campus has supported our shift to online engagement throughout the pandemic, just as the lasting impact of programs like Giving Day has supported the programs of Everywhere We Are.”

Beauty and the Brain: The Neurobiology and Psychology of Aesthetic Appreciation will be presented via Livestream on Wednesday, Nov. 17 beginning at 6 p.m., or can be attended in-person in the Dome Theatre at Contemporary Calgary. RSVP here – attendance both online and in-person is free with registration.