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Reductionism in Art and Brain Science: Bridging the Two Cultures

4.16  ·  Rating details ·  294 ratings  ·  38 reviews
Hardcover, 240 pages
Published August 30th 2016 by Columbia University Press (first published 2016)
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4.16  · 
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 ·  294 ratings  ·  38 reviews

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Dan Graser
Oct 14, 2016 rated it it was amazing
In Nobel Prize-winning Columbia Professor Eric Kandel's latest work, he offers an introduction to the idea that the study and practice of Reductionism in modern (visual) art and brain science offers great benefit to both disciplines when treated as two sides of the same coin. He eloquently sums this idea up early on: "Appreciating the reductionist methods used by artists in no wary diminishes the richness or complexity of our response to art. In fact, the artists I consider in this book have use ...more
Apr 03, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2017-reads
Clearly written introduction and elegant survey. I needed to get past my knee-jerk reaction to the term reductionism - a dirty word when I was taking anthropology classes in the early 90s (and which I was probably combining/confusing with positivism). I could more readily accept the idea of reductionism in art (as stripping away to reveal a new way of seeing) than in science, where my old biases linger. But I came to understand that Kandel is talking about reductionism as a tool, and course, we ...more
Jim Angstadt
Reductionism in Art and Brain Science: Bridging the Two Cultures
Eric R. Kandel

One might wonder about the concept of reductionism. What is it? How can it apply to the two apparently very different domains of art and brain science?

In a very readable way, with lots of examples and graphics, Kandel alternates between art and brain science to explain reductionism.

What is the smallest, least complicated, living organism that one can study to understand brain function. Reduce the complexity to the poin
Mason Neil
Sep 21, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Pretty similar in content to Age of Insight, but a bit more concise and focused on abstract expressionism rather than modernism. I did feel it was a bit rushed and less thorough than AoI, and sometimes that came at the cost of cohesiveness, but if you prefer a fast-paced read this would be more your style. Endlessly fascinating and a lot of fun.
Glad I read it. A good, clear and concise synthesis of research in brain science related to visual art. Art people might be irritated by some things: the cursory treatment of art historians and critics, the absence of female artists, the triumphalist modernist narrative, and inattention to traditional formalist evaluations of abstraction.
Lukas Althoff
Nov 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
This book (i) compares reductionist approaches in art and science, (ii) gives an overview of the most influential artists and their work when abstractionism reached its historical climax (and addresses the impact of historical events like the publication of Einstein's relativity theory), (iii) teaches us how the brain processes different visual stimuli and why abstract art is special to the brain.

(i) Reductionism = focussing on the essential elements: in science that means designing and testing
Jan 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
Reductionism in Art and Brain Science, by Eric Kandel, helped me to understand and to begin to appreciate modern art for the first time. The author shows how reducing scientific problems to more and more fundamental levels facilitates their solution, as he did in his research elucidating the structure and function of the nervous system in the snail. He then showed how the abstract expressionist artists have reduced their art to the fundamental levels of line, color, shape, and light. He shows ho ...more
Jan 29, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Eric Kandel deftly crafts this book in the same way Abstract Art utilizes reductionism.

Kandel brings science and art theory down to the (approximate?) level of the average reader. In making these topics accessible, Kandel successfully "reduces" both subjects to a challenging but understandable level. He devotes equal time to both art and science, and both describes and questions how they intersect. While it irked me that Kandel didn't include Rosalind Franklin in his description of DNA discover
Mad Hab
Jan 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I started reading the booking hoping to learn to appreciate modern/abstract art. I still have some problems with that, but the way I was thinking about abstract art is changed forever.
Apr 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is why I'm a neuroscientist but I'm hardly a Kandel! He is brilliant in the way I know his academic work and this book displays his genius beyond his academic content. Few people can so eloquently discuss two diverse content areas and he does it without a hint of arrogance or pomposity. He explained abstract expressionism in terms of neuroscience that contributed to the beauty of the art. He set out to bring together art and science using reductionism. Whereas in science we use it "to expla ...more
Nov 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The book is divided into four parts, where Kandel explores the reductionist approach to both brain science and art and the emerging dialogue between the two. As any well-written interdisciplinary book, Kandel's work brings beautiful insights to the table and leaves the reader with a sense of admiration about many more connections that are yet to be found between the science and abstract art.
As Kandel explains through a number of experiments and scientific facts, the brain processes color separa
Mar 20, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition

The book is informative, but a bit dry. I was expecting a bit more of a back and forth between neuroscience and art, but the focus was more on art. Reductionism in art was discussed a lot with the progression of art from complex realism to more abstract forms. He looked a lot at both the changes in techniques and practices of making art as well the evolution of art from the perspective of the viewer. The discussion of neuroscience included introductions about visual processing and how the evo
Jul 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Abstract art engages the beholder by heavily activating higher order mental functions such as imagery, expectations, and associations to digest sensorial ambiguity and perceptual ambivalence, and so evoke emotive meaning. Works by Mondrian, de Kooning, Pollock, Rothko, Dan Flavin, and others are used to illustrate how forms and colours are deconstructed and distilled, while the underpinning neuroscience is described. Concepts such as pareidolia, apophenia, and mental construal are highlighted. T ...more
Akanksha Chauhan
Coming from a humanities background, part 1 & 2 did not captivate me as much as Kandel traversed the physiology of the human brain. Had to frequently go back and reread to recall the more scientific terms. Part 3 onwards the book was absolutely riveting as he begins dissecting the evolution of abstraction through various periods of art. Especially loved his critique of De Kooning's work. Tbh it kept getting better and better. I strongly urge you not to give up on this book after the first co ...more
Matthew Trevithick
4.5 Stars - beautiful and elegant book that masterfully weaves a story between Abstract Expressionism and Brain Science, particularly memory and it’s role in everything. The subject material is so complex and this book could’ve gone wrong in so many places, but the author - writing at the height of his powers in his late 80s - gracefully moves through the material. The balance between appropriate detail and appropriate generalization is testament to the decades of thought that have gone into thi ...more
Zac Sigler
Aug 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: art
This is a masterpiece! (pun intended). Having watched Eric Kandel on television, I was thrilled that his voice came through very clearly in this book. The book includes equal parts psychological and artistic theory. My estimation is that I was familiar with 75% of the artists named in the book and that I was familiar with 100% of the psychological concepts discussed, though it had been a few years since I'd flexed those particular "muscles." This would be a great book for a fan of abstract art a ...more
Angel Wu
Jun 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A wonderful introduction

This book is inspiring in the sense that it introduces how the biological basis (the human brain) can be applied into the explanation of aesthetic experience. I particularly like the way it explains the aesthetic value of abstract art, which echoes with my own experience. Though further researches are undoubtedly needed to validate and enrich many of its descriptions, this volumes has pointed a promising direction for both the appreciation of the audience and the explorat
Peter Herrmann
Feb 04, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Most informative! This book has given me a much greater understanding and appreciation of modern art than I had before. But I didn't rate it 5-stars due to much repetitiveness. I also found Kandel's 'Age of Insight' highly informative (as well as repetitive). But 'Reductionism' is a much shorter book. Some of the material overlaps with 'Age of Insight' - but not sure how much because it's been awhile
since I read the later, so can't remember).
Rujuta Pradhan
Dec 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An excellent piece of work authored by a pioneer! The book juxtaposes and interweaves two fields; art and neuroscience of vision and how principles and knowledge of the two may compound to understand how humans perceive their environment and reconstruct it. A remarkable feature is Kandel's manner of writing, simplistic and yet rich in content. An ancillary advantage of reading this book is understanding the way to convey scientific information cohesively and convincingly.
This was less art/science synthesis and more a brief overview on how reductionism has been put to use in modern (last few centuries) Western art. Full of interesting info, but nothing earthshaking or particularly illuminating; ultimately my reaction upon finishing was “OK...and?”. It’s a good thing this book was less than 200 pages; much longer and I would’ve gotten bored.
Lee Barry
I’ve liked Kandel’s books. His joy and appreciation for modern and contemporary art is inspiring. But while discussing the work of Kandinsky he didn’t mention that he was a synesthete—in a book about brain science as it relates to art and artists? Otherwise a nice book.
May 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Yes, it was amazing. If your interests are art and science and you can bear with a bit of reductionism this is for you.
Giusy Cirillo
Sep 20, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Il saggio offre uno sguardo d'insieme sui concetti principali della neuroestetica, facendo riferimento ai processi percettivi dietro l'interpretazione di opere d'arte astratta.
Oct 23, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Illuminating. I read this because I'd just heard of the field of neuroaesthetics, and I wanted to learn more about how art works on the brain, and I learned much from this short book for the laymen.
Oct 02, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting hybrid work looking at brain science and art. Not sure I agree about how people look at abstract art, but definitely thought provoking.
Sue Dale
May 21, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: art
A huge topic to tackle explained clearly and simply. Enlightening. An essential read for abstractionists.
Retno larasati
Feb 23, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"Thus, beauty is not only in the eye of beholder, it is also in the preconscious creative processes of the beholder’s brain"
Feb 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"One's identity is a highly constructed composite. "
Nov 06, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An inspiring little book more focused on reductionism in art, than in brain science, but yet opening a door for further reading on the subject, hopefully by the same author in the near future. The thesis is fascinating, but the lack of actual scientific research is still obvious and one can only hope that leading brain scientists with all the technology available will keep going through the route of analyzing art as a neurological experience.

I've enjoyed it a lot, because of writing style and a
John Mchugh
Nov 26, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a Happy Anniversary gift from Nancy. It would never have occurred to me to pick up this book, much less read it. But Nancy saw the author interviewed on Charlie Rose and the rest is, as they say, history. Not exactly beach reading. But it most certainly expanded my understanding of the human brain (on a scale of zero to 100, it took me from 3 to perhaps 7) and abstract art (same scale, from 11 to 24). It's frequently good to be reminded about what complicated creatures we humans are. An ...more
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Eric R. Kandel is an American neuropsychiatrist who was a recipient of the 2000 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his research on the physiological basis of memory storage in neurons. He shared the prize with Arvid Carlsson and Paul Greengard.

Kandel, who had studied psychoanalysis, wanted to understand how memory works. His mentor, Harry Grundfest, said, “If you want to understand the brai
“This reductionist vision is reflected in the evolution of his work. Perhaps Mondrian also implicitly realized that by excluding certain angles and focusing only on others he might pique the beholder’s curiosity and imagination about the omissions.” 3 likes
“My central premise is that although the reductionist approaches of scientists and artists are not identical in their aims—scientists use reductionism to solve a complex problem and artists use it to elicit a new perceptual and emotional response in the beholder—they are analogous. For example,” 2 likes
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