Modern Art at the Border of Mind and Brain


Modern Art at the Border of Mind and Brain

Jonathan Fineberg
Foreword by James B. Milliken

216 pages
106 color illustrations, 3 graphs


August 2015


$39.50 Add to Cart

About the Book

Human beings have made images continuously for more than thirty thousand years. The oldest known cave paintings are between six and ten times older than the first forms of written language. Images help us organize our thoughts and represent them in our memory. We make images, Jonathan Fineberg argues, because we need them to aid not only in structuring our social and psychological self-conceptions but also in developing the circuitry of our brains.

Modern Art at the Border of Mind and Brain is a broad investigation by one of the foremost scholars of modern art of the relationship between modern art and the structure of the mind and brain. Based on Fineberg’s Presidential Lectures at the University of Nebraska, his book examines the relationship between artistic production, neuroscience, and the way we make meaning in form. Drawing on the art of Robert Motherwell, Joan Miró, Alexander Calder, Christo, Jean Dubuffet, and others, Fineberg helps us understand the visual unconscious, the limits of language, and the political impact of art. Throughout, he works from the conviction that looking is a form of thinking that has a profound impact on the structure of the mind.

Author Bio

Jonathan Fineberg is Visiting Distinguished Professor at the University of California, Irvine, and Edward William and Jane Marr Gutgsell Professor Emeritus at the University of Illinois. He is a trustee emeritus of the Phillips Collection in Washington, where he was founding director of the Center for the Study of Modern Art. He is the author of several books, including Art since 1940: Strategies of Being.


"Based on Fineberg's reputation, it could be expected that Modern Art at the Border of Mind and Brain would be a valuable addition for collections centered on art theory. But it's what makes this book special–its text and visuals–that extends its appropriateness into general art collections."—Carl Schmitz, Art Libraries Society of North America

“This is your brain. This is your brain on art. Jonathan Fineberg shows us just how art’s very ambiguity and subjectivity enables the brain to adapt and grow in ways that help us navigate our brave new multiverse. His book is an endlessly fascinating account of the mechanics of our perceptions when confronted with the ruptures of the new. It’s a wild ride!”—Fred Tomaselli, artist, New York

“‘Art, like falling in love, simultaneously disorganizes and nurtures the self toward a creative reordering,’ writes Fineberg. It’s hard not to love his book, informed by fifty years of writing about art and intelligently engaging neuroscience and psychoanalysis to make a case for the fundamental importance of art. With elegant and concise prose the author crafts a particularly eloquent argument for the power of abstract art as an articulation of thought in form. Looking at art allows us to confront the new and bewildering. Seeing literally alters our brains.”—Dorothy Kosinski, director of the Phillips Collection, Washington DC

“Don’t be deceived by the brevity of this book. In it Jonathan Fineberg gives a thrilling and inspiring account of the fundamental problem in abstract art: the representation of visual forms. It should be must-reading for all who are interested in neuroesthetics and the elusive problem of form representation.”—Semir Zeki, professor of neuroesthetics at University College London, Fellow of the Royal Society, and author of Splendors and Miseries of the Brain

Table of Contents

1. Motherwell’s Mother: An Iconography in Abstraction
2. The Ineffable, the Unspeakable, and the Inspirational: A Grammar
3. The Nature Theater: Art and Politics
4. Desire Lines in the Mind

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