Saturday, May 14, 2016

Week 7

     The confluence of neuroscience and the arts has a particular interest to me as someone with mental illness. The visual arts are able to represent the internal experiences of the mind in a way that is otherwise difficult to communicate. For as much as Frazetto and Anker speak on the commercialization of psychoactive drugs, the cartoon facsimile for depression in a popular Abilify commercial does a disturbingly good job of representing the experience of living with depression.

Depression, represented as a being extraneous to the sufferer, rather than as an intrinsic part of them.

     The rise of a "neuroculture," however, comes with its challenges. The language of endorphins and seretonins has made everyone an expert on neuroscience, and I am exhausted by people suggesting I exercise as a way to "release endorphins," as a treatment for my anxiety and depression, as if it were so simple. That said, the collective obsession with the way that chemicals act on the brain has produced many evocative art pieces. The rise of drug culture and LSD in the 60s coincided with an outpouring of artistic effort on the part of artists in order to replicate the experience of mind-altering drugs (Vesna).

The art of Bryan Sanders, an artist who completes self portraits while on a variety of different drugs.
An art piece representing the rhizome, a concept in Deleuzian philosophy.
Interestingly, it resembles a neural network.
     In a tenuous relationship to neuroscience (which, as Mark Cohen conveys, is concerned with an empirical observation-based understanding of the brain's mechanistic workings) is psychoanalysis. Carl Jung speaks of the ahistorical modern man, the breakdown of religion in the West, the delineation between consciousness and unconsciousness, and the work of Freud (he also claims that art predicts shifts in the collective consciousness). He stresses the importance of looking internally rather than externally. While much of Jung's work is interesting at the least, I take issue with this transcendentalist view of human progress, and his brand of psychoanalysis becomes, in its own way, another kind of religion, translating human behavior into its own mystic set of symbols and interpretations. As Deleuze writes, "In truth, Freud sees nothing and understands nothing." The world is a landscape of multiplicities, and to ascribe any sort of unifying consciousness/unconsciousness dichotomy is to diminish its beauty and complexity. From a Deleuzian standpoint, art is neither representative nor referential, but instead self-expressive and self-evident, an affirmation of one's existence as a being of nature. Art as an act of one's neurological capabilities. As someone who is tired of all my actions being read as representative of my mental issues, I appreciate this view of art.


Cohen, Mark. "Neuroscience." 12 May 2012. Web.
Deleuze, Gilles, and Fľix Guattari. Anti-oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. London: Continuum, 2003. Print.
Frazetto, Giovanni and Anker, Suzanne. "Neuroculture." Nature. Vol. 10. 2009. 815-821.
Jung, Carl. "The Spiritual Problem of Modern Man." 1928.
Vesna, Victoria. "Neuroscience." UCLA. 2016. Web.

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