V Aviv (Front Hum Neurosci. 2014) says, "Abstract art frees our brain from the dominance of reality, enabling it to flow within its inner states, create new emotional and cognitive associations, and activate brain-states that are otherwise harder to access.
"Abstract art is a very recent (100 years old or so) invention of the human brain. Its success in attracting the brains of so many of us suggests that it has an important cognitive/emotional role. Supported by recent experimental studies, I claim that abstract art frees our brain from the dominance of reality, enabling the brain to flow within its inner states, to create new emotional and cognitive associations and activate brain-states that are otherwise harder to access. This process is apparently rewarding as it enables the exploration of yet undiscovered inner territories of the viewer’s brain."
In other words, when you look at a picture of a chair, your brain activity is pretty much the same as if you were looking at a hard chair. There are other studies that show more brain activity if you have been taught about painting styles, there is more brain activity. But that's all in the same old places where brain activity always takes place.
We've been told that we only use 5% of our amazing brains. Well, abstract art is one way of using more.
Abstract art reaches the places figurative representations can't reach, and it makes new connections, new pathways, and brings new areas of the physical brain online.
What I find interesting is that the researchers note people find this "relaxing." Stress relieving. They mention that in the literal representations, people's eyes get stuck on certain details, and then they form opinions on those. Abstract paintings cause "a wider gaze" and that in turn once again creates different pathways in the brain and forges new connections where there had been none.
I found these "scientific articles" upon typing in the title of this essay, "Abstract Art Makes You More Intelligent," into a search engine.
I've known that working with abstract art does interesting things to your "brain" (mind, consciousness, intelligence, world view, experience, attitude, ability to conceptualise, etc. etc. etc!). I've known this for a long time. I also find it immensely relaxing, uplifting and stress relieving.
And that's just looking at/looking for abstract art.
Looking For Abstract Art
Our science friend quoted above says that abstract art is a very recent invention of the human brain. I think he is very wrong about that. Human beings have been looking at "abstract art" for as long as they're been looking at everything.
Nature provides us with abstract art at every turn.
Let's start with cloud watching. Or lying in the grass on a summer night, looking up at the stars.
Being fascinated by random patterns in rocks and pebbles. Reflections on water. Still black twigs in winter against a rose hued sky.
Abstract art is everywhere and I love it so much that I dedicated an entire website to abstract images derived by photography, and without photoshopping - documenting the abstract art side of reality absolute.
This is one of my "Wonderworld" images, an abstract painting by nature.
I looked at this existence and took photographs to document the experience. Normally, we don't do that, or if we do, we use "sacred photography" instead.
Have you ever sat on a beach perhaps and got lost in the abstract world of shells and stones?
Held them in your hand, turned them around, looking for something you already knew it was there, and then you found it, and it was a moment of grace?
That's the deal with nature's abstract art - it is a moment when the world becomes so much deeper, so much richer, so much more wonderful, so much more amazing.
These moments are doorways to a deeper truth about reality absolute.
There is more to it than can be seen at the top surface.
There is a way to see the more, to know the more and to touch that more - but you got to look for it.
You got to understand that the more is important.
I guess that's why I wrote this article and titled it "Abstract Art Makes You More Intelligent."
I want to draw attention to the wonderworlds we live in, which are way beyond any Hollywood fantasy of pretty flowers and stately lions.
Those are distractions to a greater truth.
If you hate modern abstract art because you think it's just crazy people throwing shit at a canvas, well, perhaps most of the time you're not so wrong.
I would invite you though to start looking for abstract art in nature.
It exists, and even the attempt of stopping once in a while and really searching for it, really paying attention to it, will make us all not just more intelligent, but a whole lot wiser.
Addendum: Here is a photograph of lake water on a blue sky day.
A perfect example of what I mean by abstract art being all around us, and having fascinated us, inspired us and touched us since the dawn of humanity.
Water as abstract art.