As Ph.D. P. Cavanagh claimed in one of his papers, «Paintings and drawings are a 40,000-year record of experiments in visual neuroscience.» Throughout its history, art has found in science a source of inspiration. From Surrealism to Art Brut or the most recent Neuroart, many artists have been influenced by neurology and neuropsychiatry advances. Likewise, neuroscience has used art not only as a research topic but also as a way to represent many of its findings. Leonardo Da Vinci or Ramon y Cajal showed us the beauty of the brain with a strong reliance on visual representation.

Both artists and neuroscientists have been equally fascinated by the discoveries of mental processes, and both have explored many topics like colour, memory, perception, or spatial relationships. This project focuses on the reciprocal exchange of ideas between art and neuroscience, a crossover story that started some time ago. This influence can be traced back to the artistic avant-garde of the last decades of the 19th century and the early 20th century. During those years, psychiatry and neurology had not been fully separated, and society witnessed an increasing understanding of the visual brain and mental illness, which caused a profound impact on the artistic representation of reality and human beings.

The Art Brut or Outsider art probably represents the best example of how neuroscientific knowledge has permeated artistic production. Its origin can be found in the 1922 work titled «The plastic activity of the mentally ill. A contribution to the psychology and psychopathology of formal configuration» by the German psychiatrist Hans Prinzhorn. His work collected many drawings from mentally ill people that would influence future art movements. Then, in the 20th century, the artist Jean Dubuffet founded the art movement of Art Brut based on Prinzhorn´s work. This movement is established by people outside the academic tradition of art, from socially excluded people to mentally ill patients, and illustrates extreme mental states and unconventional ideas. Another example of outsider art is the SciArt, a joining point between art and science. Thus, «sciArtists» are driven by a specific interest instead of following the conventional art world’s rules. In the last decades, art and neuroscience seemed to have merged deeply. For instance, functional magnetic resonance imaging has been used to create an aesthetic view of the human body, and much hybrid research has appeared, neuroaesthetics and neuroarthistory being only two of them.

Altogether, this project aims to design a website that contains 4 articles about the parallel development of neuroscience and plastic art in contemporary history. The text compilation will provide a historical review of this particular collaboration. However, these writings would not be just narrative; it would also be a very visual journey through different art pieces and artists. The website gathers references to Art Brut, Surrealism, LSD art, and what we call Gericault´s Monomania. Indeed, a picture is worth a thousand words, moreover in the case of an artwork. Correspondingly, there will be some examples of researchers using fine arts in their research. Finally, all these stories will create a bigger picture that talks about transferring brain knowledge from the laboratory to every aspect of life.


Casini S. (2010). The Aesthetics of Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI): From the Scientific Laboratory to an Artwork. Contemporary Aesthetics 8

Cavanagh P. (2005). The artist as neuroscientist. Nature434(7031), 301–307.

Pepperell R. (2011). Connecting Art and the Brain: An Artist’s Perspective on Visual Indeterminacy. Frontiers in human neuroscience5, 84.

Prinzhorn, H. (1995). Artistry of the mentally ill: a contribution to the psychology and psychopathology of configuration, translated by Eric von Brockdorff from the second German edition. Springer-Verlag

The texts and this website have been developed by Erik Aostri. All rights reserved.