Memorability Books:  Modern Art at the Border of Mind and Brain


December, 2017

Art and the brain
Brain Health

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

Publisher: University of Nebraska Press

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, often parts that we don’t want to deal with. The ability of art to do this lies in the unique power of visual language to communicate differently from verbal or written language. 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.

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. The symbolic language of abstract art taps into the artist’s mind, is a representation of the artist’s mind but it is not the artist’s mind. This language is then understood by viewers. Fineberg also observes that many people Motherwell admired in the art world, in terms of the art that they produced, had similar conflicts or upbringing. As Fineberg mentions, ‘art opens areas of unconscious material otherwise inaccessibly shielded by a formidable system of psychic defenses, and in this moment of vulnerability, it creates a state of openness.’


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

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?

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 elucidates, 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.’

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.’

Enjoy your gallery visit.

Kirti Ranchod

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