Brain Art by Michelle Hunter
At the Neuromarketing World Forum this year (March 5-7, New York) I had the chance to be introduced to Michelle Hunter, a New York City artist that has a passion for exploring the brain in contemporary art.
Her paintings are based on brain functions scientific research and challenges the art viewer in great ways. I love her technique, so I would like to share here some of the works she presents on her official website: www.hunterart.com
The Brain Series of paintings of Michelle Hunter deconstructs familiar themes related to how our brains function, exploring neuroscience through art.
The series has addressed memory, alcohol, music, smoking, among other topics so far and it is interesting to learn more about how the brain works watching these paintings and reading their stories.
So here are some of Michelle’s paintings that I liked most:
- For the following piece of art, the artist thought about the people we interact that seem like they are fine, but perhaps they put on a brave face while they may be down inside. The questions above led me to want to have a mask in the composition of the painting. The mask in the painting is of a smiling face while the person is instead feeling detached in a social setting. As Michelle says, the large windows show people going about their business, the world doesn’t stop for anyone, life goes on.The brain is painted as an MRI scan so you can see where the outline of the cortex is. There are parts of the outline that are thinner than others which is what it could be like for someone suffering from, or likely to develop depression.
- Our visual cortex is located at the back of our brains and covers both left and right hemispheres. By knowing just that bit of information, Michelle Hunter wanted the angle of the head to be 3/4 profile from the back. The visual cortex area of the brain is highlighted with this dense area of reddish dots and the painting is designed as a color blind test.
- Two “feel good” chemicals in the brain which influence our mood are triggered when one smokes something with an addictive substance such as cigarettes that have nicotine: opioids and dopamine. You can see the brain filled up with smoke, and highlighted areas of the brain (with gold) that are the one that trigger opioids and dopamine and the area of the brain that manages emotions. Those chemicals send signals to our frontal lobe which generates the feelings of pleasure, smoothing of pain and reward.
- Sometimes it takes several links being connected for a memory to come back, as Michelle says. This painting shows the brain as wires and includes artist’s hands. Real wire is actually incorporated into the piece as well. Also, Michelle says that there is a reason the wires are disconnected at the bottom part of the brain: the Temporal Lobe. This brain area houses the part of the brain that controls memory called hippocampus.
- Have you experienced headaches during the days you have not drinking any cup of coffee? Michelle did and these migraines were her inspiration for the following painting: a cup on a table where the brain throbbing so much that it’s cracking what confines it. The brain is also warm and starting to overheat.
- In Michelle Hunter’s opinion, “the past and future are useful states of mind only when referred to as needed, not lived in. Dreaming (day or night) is another form of escaping this moment of reality, avoiding what’s real”. She choose to use rubix cubes because she felt it represents how our minds are nearly always in flux while there are moments when things may feel connected either just because or something was achieved. Have you tried solving a rubix cube, think you solved it when you see one side was solved, but then you turn it around to find that another color was out of place? Another area to be resolved. That is represented here by the colors on the front of the cube matching. “In these various states on mind, we are achieving something or getting something out of it (to escape, pulling references to help with a situation, remembering what it is that we want to look forward to)”, says Michelle. Nice metaphor!
Here’s a great drawing that illustrates our internal navigation system within our brain – the Hippocampus: