I love my hair salon. The owner’s husband is a visual artist and the place is really a gallery packed with his work. Plenty of art magazines on hand too. I was getting some work done the other day and reading one of the magazines while the color was cooking (image I’d insert if I had it: middle aged woman in old barber’s chair with tin foil on her head). I found a fascinating article in Modern Painter on a neuroscientist, Semir Zeki, who researches the affect of visual stimulation on the brain. According to the article, “All great artists, Zeki believes, are instinctive neuroscientists; they have an innate understanding of how the brain ‘sees’ the world, and they are fated by this knowledge to constantly try to find a visual language for those concepts.” I love that idea of the artist trying to articulate what he or she senses.
The article describes his work–which involves watching how the brain responds to visual stimuli and isolating which spots in the brain respond. I’ve read about similar studies involving music and the brain. So of course, I wondered, what about the literary arts? Will we someday see precisely where and how the brain responds to what is being read? And what does that mean for writers of children’s literature? After all, our readers have developing gray matter. Do readers up to a certain age respond more positively to white space on the page? Does a shimmer of terror caused by a scary scene reverberate only so long and then need another jolt to the brain? Does sentiment cause a less pronounced brain buzz than fear, and does this change at a certain age? Could knowing all this help us make decisions about dialogue, pacing, subject matter?
I’m always split about the “write for an audience” argument. I believe in doing just that and I believe in not doing it. I doubt if I’ll change what I do, but I was rather excited by the article and all it suggested. And yes, I know…my response may have been influenced by the tin foil on my head.
All I can hope for is that the saying: "the more we know, the more we know we don't know" is true. As we learn more about the brain, let us be amazed by the beauty of it and not trapped by our limitations in perceiving it.