Abstract expressionist paintings reveal the neural systems involved in processing color and luminance: an fMRI study
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In this study, we use paintings that canonically and/or visually belong to the Abstract Expressionist movement to study how the brain processes different forms of color and luminance. Subjects viewed 240 unique images in the experiment in a block design. All of the paintings used in the experiment were painted by the artists in color. Half of the 240 images were three styles of painting in their original (saturated) forms, and the other half were desaturated versions of the same paintings. In our analysis, we compared saturated Abstract Expressionist paintings to their desaturated counterparts - both as a group and within the Gesture and Color Field styles. We also compared the desaturated Gesture paintings to their saturated counterparts because many of the Gesture painters created work with little to no color. Through these contrasts, we show that different regions in the brain process color and luminance. Notably, we show that (1) the brain processes color in the Gesture and Color Field paintings differently (2) color is capable of producing significant activation in the amygdala and (3) the color and luminance in the Gesture paintings produce strikingly different patterns of significant activation.