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The neurology of kinetic art

S. Zeki, M. Lamb
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/brain/117.3.607 607-636 First published online: 1 June 1994


Credo (manifesto of physiological facts) All visual art must obey the laws of the visual system.

The first law is that an image of the visual world is not impressed upon the retina, but assembled together in the visual cortex. Consequently, many of the visual phenomena traditionally attributed to the eye actually occur in the cortex. Among these is visual motion.

The second law is that of the functional specialization of the visual cortex, by which we mean that separate attributes of the visual scene are processed in geographically separate parts of the visual cortex, before being combined to give a unified and coherent picture of the visual world.

The third law is that the attributes that are separated, and separately processed, in the cerebral cortex are those which have primacy in vision. These are colour, form, motion and, possibly, depth. It follows that motion is an autonomous visual attribute, separately processed and therefore capable of being separately compromised after brain lesions. It is also one of the visual attributes that have primacy, just like form or colour or depth.

We conclude that it is this separate visual attribute which those involved in kinetic art have tried to exploit, instinctively and physiologically, from which it follows that in their explorations artists are unknowingly exploring the organization of the visual brain though with techniques unique to them.