Art Expedition Tour Romania Transylvania SBÎRCIU ION 

Contemporary Art

: SBÎRCIU ION     Abstract Art perception and the brain

web info: www.uad.ro/profesori/pictura/ioan_sbarciu/index.htm

Interview     : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CBpj9erfl9A




Abstract Expressionist



EVB: Etienne Verbist I SBÎRCIU ION

EVB Who are you and what do you do?


Former rector of the University of Art and Design in Cluj-Napoca, IOAN SBîRCIU,


EVB About your work?


Nature, ecology and social awareness are more important than ever in art. I am a painter, not a man of many words. I am emotionally involved in my work. Appearance and disappearance of form, colour and line are my ways of expression. Since a few years, I discuss often with my friend neuroscientist Jan DE MAERE, about art as an experience. But, I live my personal subjectivity in a painterly world, without too many words. His approach is also interesting for my students. I rarely speak about myself. Therefore, the following text, written for my exhibition in the Hugo Voeten Art Center is a good introduction to my work.


Exhibition Ioan Sbîrciu in the Hugo Voeten Art Center (Belgium)


EVB What’s your goal?


Art can make us see, what a photographer would miss. Before the appearance of language and history as we know them, art was already a vital tool of human visual communication created by the brain, imagined on the walls of caves.

Artists unknowingly exploiting the laws of the organization of the brain, unaware of the underlying neural physiology of the effect of their painting strategy on the beholder.


VB What is your dream project?


A great monographic exhibition in an important museum, big enough to show my big canvasses. Our relation to nature is essential. I am extremely emotional about this major concern for humanity


Art gives us a special feeling, intertwined with our personality, taste, culture and specific domain knowledge. The “artness” of the work of art is coined by Jan DE MAERE as “the ‘quiddity’, its ontological condition as art, expressed in degrees of intensity”. What each of us experiences as “beauty” is a brain activity, fostering pleasure, trust and cooperation. Neuroscience explains some of the mysteries that the art experience exerts on the beholder

Understanding brain activity reveals some of the hidden parameters with which we judge what we subjectively believe, like and dislike in art. The basic processes of our ancient instincts define our experiences heavily. The intuitive experience of art provokes curiosity, excitement and enjoyment in our non-conscious mind, stabilized by the autonomy, the discipline and the need for security of our homeostasis.


This is seen in the diagram, the result of an enquiry (2005-2011) with famous connoisseurs in art made by Jan DE MAERE.
J. DE MAERE, Neurosciences et Connoisseurship
Ghent Univ. Press 2011.of


All paintings, even abstract ones, tell a story unconsciously created by the beholder. In his The Birth of Tragedy, Nietzsche demonstrated our subjective Dionysian need for drama, tragedies, myths and mysteries, essential to all culture. The problem-solving brain of the beholder investigates them, but deep in us resides the un-conscious desire for that they keep the secret, because they are beyond words.

  1. Nietzshe, The Birth of Tragedy out of the Spirit of Music, 1872



We hate deception, which provokes shame, guilt and sorrow.

Wired by human evolution to be a confident “believer”, the beholder makes new synaptic connections and permutations in his brain. This physiology sparks a wave of:   *interactions    *analogies      *metaphors *associations *expectations *questions. We like to believe in what we assume we see, even if we don’t have a real grip on reality, which we know only through our senses.

—I can formulate some ideas, written by DE MAERE with which I agree. He teaches as a guest professor at our University for Art & Design since 2015.


— Without personally experiencing a special cognitive-esthetic and meaningful emotion, there is no art experience. But, what is art today?

— Andy Warhol said: “Everything can be art and everybody can be an artist”;

— Joseph Beuys confirmed it.

— Pablo Picasso, Francis Bacon and Gerhard Richter declare the opposite: great art needs lasting excellence.

—David Hockney said: “Art hasn’t ended and neither has the history of pictures”.

Both opposing opinions are biased by their own “doxa” defining “Art”. Preferences

linked to our proprioception, dogmas and experiences. Personally, we do not

perceive every product of an artist as “Art”, whatever art critics say; but history

formed a largely shared consensus.

—Question: What is art for you?

—Objectively and in neuroscience, “Art”, a specific emotion, is what we believe it is, when experiencing it. When we judge something as “not Art”, we express only our subjective “Truth” about it. Since we are all convinced we have good taste, we hope to convince others. Therefore, we communicate what we like and dislike.

—Kawabata & S. Zeki, Neural correlates of Beauty. Journal of Neurophys. 2004, 91, pp 1699-1705.

—D. Hockney & M. Gayford, A History of Pictures, Thames & Hudson, London 2016.

Culture shapes thought, beauty and meaning, only limited by the laws of our brain


Question: What is a masterpiece?

Masterpieces are believed to be exceptional works of art. Their meaningfulness survives the challenge of time. I refer to DE MAERE: “Masterpieces deceive the eye but do not support lies about their ontological condition. They need originality, hope for another world and “Truth”. As such, they are memorable. All paintings are not masterpieces; nor are all art historians, neither “connoisseurs”. Natural selection implies that human culture needs a qualitative hierarchy, based on a timeless dimension.  Masterpieces build a timeless master curve for human artful emotions, validated by peer-review of the best connoisseurs over centuries”. Through their uniqueness, they are the anchor-points of our visual desire for Utopia, creating redemption from worldly suffering. Great art surpasses the boundaries of formal stylistic laws; superseding expectations of past generations and those to come.



I agree with DE MAERE’s idea: “Visual art experience of paintings is a non-verbal fundamental expression of the human embodied spirit, a hypothetical strategy, creatively reflecting on our experiences of nature and art. Art is a form of communication and perceptive incidental learning that provokes emotion, deep attention, pleasure and empathy, without any additional desire when admiring a masterpiece. The understanding of the neural physiology of the art experience and of the art-instinct, gives us insight in the function of the mind and in the experience of beauty”.


Art is what is perceived as such in the chain of the history of the genre and in the context of a culture. All art, even the lowest expression of it, has a social function. But, it is also a challenge in need of hierarchy and competition, open to all.

—This creative illusion, responding to our need for condolence, is the mirror in which the beholder’s ‘self’ reflects. I confirm De MAERE’s definition: ”Body, mind, consciousness, cognitive perception and the art-instinct, collaborate to form an “ephemeral stabilized ambiguity” in the brain, conditioned by the delicate balance between human evolution (genetic & epigenetic) and culture”.


All art is based on desire. Therefore, the mind is an erogenous zone. Some non-genital zones are erogenous because the insula (cortex) control our saucy spots.


The environment, particularly the splendid nature we want to preserve, in which we grew up and live here in Romania conditions our inclinations. They are nevertheless largely limited by the potential of our genetic component. The latter defines the success-potential of one’s art instinct, thus of the artist’s creativity and of the beholder’s connoisseurship. I teach here in Cluj-Napoca to stimulate my student’s curiosity and to enhance their domain knowledge. But first of all, I am interested in their social awareness.



Convictions, cognitive bias but also flaws of visual memory and personality traits determine the way we describe our observations.


Much of the art experience comes down to pattern recognition. Humans are so good at it, that we often see patterns where there are none; such as animal figures in clouds or mountains. The beholder himself becomes an actor of what he sees in art; even more when the painting is abstract. Billions of incoming cues of all our senses continuously overwhelm us. Without the selection imposed on them by emotion and memory, we cannot build knowledge and meaning.


The physical reality of the world is in itself unknowable. It is not what it seems to be and we have no objective link to it.


    Following Jan DE MAERE, the critical art experience is a   process with three distinct phases:


 First, we do a gist (global first impression), initiated by the first raw input of the senses.

Immediately after, focal eye movements explore the painting until satisfaction.       Interaction with our peripheral view upgraded by ongoing perception, continuously completes the mental image, through flux and backlash, moderated by memory.

 Finally, we intuitively make a critical assessment of our visual cognitive perception as a whole. Experience and art historical references help to categorize the information rationally and to submit later our opinion to peer-review.

Neuroscience explains this in steps. But, I myself am the first critical observer of my work. I do not think, I see immediately If I am happy with the outcome or not. Creativity is an ongoing unconscious process in my mind.




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