Modern Art at the Border of Mind and Brain by Jonathon Fineberg


Memorability’s Book Club

These projects are simply so beautiful that we find out emotions somehow more accessible and we suspend our disbelief. That, in turn, makes us look at the most ordinary things around us as if we were seeing them for the first time. Fineberg

Jonathan Fineberg in his book Modern Art at the Border of Mind and Brain illustrates the value of art for both individuals and society.

Art reveals parts of ourselves to us and helps us to manage stress and stay healthy. The ability of art to do this lies in the unique power of visual language to communicate differently from verbal or written language connecting us with memory, spirit, and hope.

To me, it’s a bit like reading an excellent essay, versus listening to a skilled orator. Both can have a profound impact but in different ways- the method and style of communication is different, thus resulting in a different effect.

‘Art, like falling in love, simultaneously disorganises and nurtures the self toward a creative reordering…’ Jonathon Fineberg

In discussing Robert Motherwell’s paintings, Fineberg states that ‘what he had managed to do…was to transform content of his childhood memories and his unconscious conflicts to make a great body of paintings in which others could find meaning and value.’ Robert Motherwell was thus able to convey concepts which people related to without having a history on his life. Art that we appreciate is often art that moves us, where we feel understood by the art and artist, where we feel that there is a message communicated to guide us. Something about this process, where we as viewers are engaging with an external object created by someone else, is processed by the brain in the same way as processing information related to ourselves.

Do you feel constantly stressed and fatigued?
Do you want to transform your life?

This makes me wonder:
Are we attracted to the art we need to help us process conflicts or heal wounds?
Is our attraction to what we consider beautiful, more profound?
What is the potential of art to help us deal with unresolved conflicts?

Are we attracted to the art we need to help us process conflicts or heal wounds?

In this book, Fineberg also displays that art is able to convey ideas that can lead to transformation in a community. He uses the example of the art of Christo and Jeanne-Claude. They, for example, created large, temporary installations where islands were wrapped in cloth, and a fence was created with approximately 40km of cloth. They were able to stimulate communities, and get people talking and thinking. It ultimately changed appreciation of something seen, and often ignored, daily. Fineberg asks, ‘could such a collective experience change the outlook of a number of other people in the same way that it changed the outlook of the artist? Could it provide a communicable reorganisation of the psyche with a social and political impact?’

The other concept that Fineberg discusses, is that art (and I think in particular an abstract form), challenges us. Normal thought patterns can sometimes be unhelpful in problem-solving. We are obliged to change these patterns. We do this by creating new neural paths. These new paths change the way we see the world and ourselves, which leads to new ways of problem-solving. He says, ‘It opens connections between thoughts we that we don’t “normally” put together.’ Understanding the impact on art and creativity can help us to support use art to optimise brain skills such as problem-solving or calm or memory.

Modern Art at the Border of Mind and Brain is a wonderful book on the power of art which, ‘allows us to reintegrate childhood into the present…by taking us back to the elasticity of the child’s mind that is still somewhere within us.’ He continues, ‘It is…the riddle itself, not the answer, that causes us to construct and venture on new paths.’

Think better. Feel better. Love and live better with better brain health.

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