Artist Jackson Pollock is considered one of the most critically divisive artists as contemporary critics described his works as "inhabited by opposites: lyrical and violent, anguished and ecstatic, cathartic and obsessive, tormented and liberating, ethereal and base" and conversely as "mere unorganised explosions of random energy, and therefore meaningless." For those who have never looked at a Pollock painting, one his most famous is the prize of New York’s Museum of Modern Art, One: Number 31 seen here. When asked about his techniques, Pollock described his paintings as an extension of his unconscious mind and onlookers described his method during one particular session as a kind of frenzied trance:
His movements, slow at first, gradually became faster and more dance like as he flung black, white, and rust colored paint onto the canvas. He completely forgot that Lee and I were there
As his works were meant to be pictures of his intense mental landscape, Pollock’s paintings seemed to inspire similar emotions in viewers and he obviously understood this as he once said, "Abstract painting is abstract. It confronts you." What Pollock understood intuitively has since been confirmed by modern neuroscience and the mechanics behind aesthetics and the mind are now less of a mystery.
The Science of Art
University of California San Diego neuroscientist V.S. Ramachandran has released a book entitled The Tell-Tale Brain in which he describes certain aspects of the visual arts that are universally appealing to humans and some animals. Ramachandran mentions things like symmetry and shapes, but his most relevant finding is that animals associate shapes with things they are already familiar with and exaggerated representation of emotionally significant shapes evoke a stronger response. The example he uses is an experiment involving seagulls where a stick painted yellow with a red spot on the end, visually similar to the beak of an adult seagull, is showed to young seagulls. At the sight of the faux-beak, the chicks instinctively begin to beg for food.
Then researchers took the experiment one step further and painted numerous bold red stripes on the stick as they hypothesized that the red dot was the main emotional trigger in the birds and it paid off as the baby birds were sent into a frenzy at the sight of the exaggerated beak. What this experiment means to the understanding of how visual art affects the human mind is that it establishes that there are inherent shapes and designs that inspire certain emotions in onlookers and that exaggerated representations of these things create a much stronger response, just as art is an exaggerated and idealized vision of how the artist views reality. In this frame of thought, Pollock was spot on when he described art as a confrontation as it literally brings high-intensity unconscious emotions to the surface of a viewer’s mind.
The idea that aesthetics affect the mind may now be better understood, but the concept was never truly that novel as artists of all disciplines have been describing the necessity of visual beauty for human well-being for centuries. More recently, businesses have become hyper-focused on how the visual feel of advertising and retail restores affects customers and the concepts extend to the workplace as well. A US government medical study actually found that most employees consider an aesthetically pleasing work environment very important and even drew a direct relationship between a visually pleasing work environment and better health.
Apple founder Steve Jobs was a huge proponent of making aesthetic value a priority for everything as he believed it was the foundation to a better end product: Design is the fundamental soul of a human-made creation that ends up expressing itself in successive outer layers of the product or service. Apple as well as other Silicon Valley tech giants have taken to making beautiful, open spaces for their employees to work at such as Apple’s new Jobs-designed campus described as the "spaceship" made with walls made of one curved, unbroken piece of glass dozens of feet high.
For those looking for an aesthetic upgrade without having to spend $5 billion, the estimated cost of Apple’s new headquarters, there are many other options. Buying or renting art can be a much-needed visual boost for an office space and many companies offer art rental services that actually rent original masterpieces to individuals looking to turn an ordinary office in an extraordinary one (CKI’s art catalogue is one good example). In the workplace, attitude can mean everything and adding a little bit of flair to yours can make a substantial difference in both productivity and general morale.