PSY3008 : Art, Mind and Brain

  • Offered for Year: 2012/13
  • Module Leader(s): Dr Gabriele Jordan
  • Lecturer: Prof. Anya Hurlbert, Dr Yoav Tadmor
  • Owning School: Psychology
  • Teaching Location: Newcastle City Campus
Semester 1 Credit Value: 10
ECTS Credits: 5.0


To familiarise students with the mechanisms and brain structures underpinning the creation, perception and appreciation of art, with an emphasis on visual art and artistic creativity.

To enhance knowledge of theoretical and practical research issues in psychology.

To provide opportunities to acquire in-depth knowledge about selected psychological processes relevant to the producing and appreciating works of art.

Original Summary:
Art is a uniquely human concept and activity that touches on many branches of psychology. In this module, we attempt to understand some of the processes and biological origins of art, its creation and its appreciation. More specifically we consider what art is, how it arises from the individual and collective mind, and how it can be understood in terms of fundamental brain mechanisms. We introduce and explore the new field of Neuroaesthetics, which postulates that art may be universally explained in terms of neural mechanisms.

We first consider art in the context of visual perception, recognising that visual artists have for centuries understood and exploited, consciously or unconsciously, many of the mechanisms that vision scientists are only now investigating in laboratory experiments. For example, why and how do we perceive depth and movement in flat, static paintings, or what is the importance of colour and light in paintings?

We then consider the cognitive mechanisms involved in the creative process and the psychopathologies that are sometimes associated with a creative mind. We will look at case histories of individual artists to consolidate our knowledge.

Outline Of Syllabus

Lecture Topics include:

•       Introduction
•       Art and visual perception: Space
•       Art and visual perception: Movement
•       Art and visual perception: Colour
•       Art and the damaged eye
•       Art and the damaged brain
•       Art and the mind: the influence of top-down knowledge
•       Art and the mind: creativity and mental disorders
•       Art and the mind: Synaesthesia
•       Art and the mind: Music.
Required seminars:
The module consists of two interlinked and equally important components: lectures and student-led seminars. Each student is required to prepare one 10 minute oral presentation, with visual aids and a handout, on a topic designed to fit in with the current lecture topics. If numbers do not permit each student to present a talk, group presentations will be organised by the module leader. General topics are specified at the start of the module, although students are encouraged to come up with their own specific topic within the general areas. Seminar topics for past academic years included:
1.       Picasso’s Guernica: The Influence of Historical Context.
2.       Mona Lisa – Who, What, Where, and Why?
3.       The camera obscura.
4.       Rembrandt’s Belshazzar’s Feast: The Influence of Background Knowledge on Perception of Art.
5.       Is the portrait a dead art form?
6.       Jackson Pollock: Did lifestyle and/or deteriorating optics affect his artwork?
7.       Bridget Riley: Colour vs black and white?
8.       Viktor Vasarely: Is it Art?
9.       Was Turner colour-blind?
10.       Georgia O'Keefe's colour palette: the mark of a woman?
11.       Fauvism: An unprincipled fad or passionate art?
12.       Visual agnosias and Art.
13.       What caused Van Gogh's altered use of colour in his painting?
14.       The biological origins of art (Aiken).
15.       Freud’s essays on art.
16.       Edvard Munch: Did depression influence his art?
17.       The neuropsychology of visual artists.
18.       Dali (surrealism and the unconscious).
19.       De Chirico (metaphysics and pre-surrealism)
20.       Magritte (surrealism and semantics).
21.       Rock and roll.
22.       Stravinsky: a synaesthete.

Teaching Methods

Teaching Activities
Category Activity Number Length Student Hours Comment
Guided Independent StudyAssessment preparation and completion210:0020:00preparation for presentation and practice exam
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesLecture121:0012:00N/A
Guided Independent StudySkills practice82:0016:00Reading assigned papers
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesSmall group teaching111:0011:00Includes exercises, debates, oral presentations, practice exam
Guided Independent StudyProject work31:003:00Collection of material
Guided Independent StudyIndependent study138:0038:00Revising material for exam
Teaching Rationale And Relationship

The lectures together with the handouts set the parameters of the course. Their primary purpose is to direct the students to the relevant reading and to sensitise them to the key points of the topic in question. The seminars give the students the opportunity to express their ideas to others and to get involved in discussions that would clarify these ideas and lead to further consideration.
Students are expected to be independent and pragmatic, taking more responsibility for their own learning and skill development as this is a characteristic of Stage 3. A certain amount of independent reading and thinking will also be required beyond the essential reading stipulated for this module.

Assessment Methods

The format of resits will be determined by the Board of Examiners

Description Length Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Written Examination1201A80N/A
Oral Presentation101M10Oral presentation – feedback provided. The presentation will be 10-20 minutes depending upon student numbers.
Other Assessment
Description Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Written exercise1M10Mid-term essay taken under exam conditions
Assessment Rationale And Relationship

Written exam - consists of two unseen essays

Rational and relationship of assessment to learning outcomes:
The oral presentation assignment is both summative and formative, and will be used to assess knowledge, independent learning and understanding of material relevant to the module; the ability to research this material and to organise it into a coherent argument; and the ability to communicate clearly in a formal presentation to a small group.
Each student will prepare and deliver one 10-minute oral presentation on a topic of his/her choosing from a set of topics that complement the lecture material. In case of larger student numbers, the presentations will be done by small groups rather than individuals. The presentations will be observed and marked by the teaching staff of the module, using a 5-point scale: Merit (75%), Good (65%) Satisfactory (55%), Unsatisfactory (45%) and Fail (35%). Students will be given feedback on their presentations.
The examination essays will be used to assess knowledge, independent learning and understanding of material relevant to the module, the ability to integrate this material, to communicate clearly in writing, and the ability for critical thought. In addition, the examination assesses the skills of analysis and reasoning.
The mid-term exam essay will be used to practice and prepare the students for the end-of–term exam. Assessment will be both summative and formative.

Reading Lists


Disclaimer: The University will use all reasonable endeavours to deliver modules in accordance with the descriptions set out in this catalogue. Every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information, however, the University reserves the right to introduce changes to the information given including the addition, withdrawal or restructuring of modules if it considers such action to be necessary.