Spencer (my son) drew several "monsters" the other day and explained that they are to be viewed both right side up and upside down. 

drawing by Spencer Hill

Drawing by Spencer Hill

Most of us have seen the inverted drawing of the young woman who when turned becomes an old lady.

This exercise Spencer referenced also reminded me of something I read about Neuroaesthetics (Solso, Robert L. The Psychology of Art and the Evolution of the Conscious Brain. Cambridge Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2003.).

To put it simply, fMRI imaging has proved that a part of the brain (fusiform gyrus) is responsible for facial recognition. So when we're presented with something similar to a face this part of our brain is activated. When it's turned upside down and the features aren't in their recognizable place that part of the brain is less active. This is why there's the exercise of turning a picture of a portrait upside down before drawing from it. This is so you don't engage your fusiform gyrus and instead look at the image as a whole. 

Here artist, Anelia Loubser, makes an upside down face appear to have the facial features in the recognizable place. It makes your brain question it and turns on and off your fusiform gyrus.

Solso's book also presented a really interesting study in which a professional portrait artist and a non-artist were both set for fMRI imaging of brain activity while drawing a portrait. The non-artist's brain was more active in the fusiform gyrus than the professional portrait artist. Instead the professional artist's brain was more active in the pre-frontal areas of the brain. Suggesting that the artist wasn't as worried about the step by step rendering of a face but rather the concept, feelings, and emotion behind the subject.

When working in the galleries I had a harder time selling portraits than other subject matter like still lives, landscapes, or abstract pieces. However, the portraits would often gain the greatest attention from viewers. I think it's interesting to hear different perspectives on why we have the responses we do to art.

Cover image by Anelia Loubser