Beauty is in the Brain of the Beholder
What happens in your brain when one of your clients produces an art product that you find alluring, appealing, and attractive? And would the same thing happen in the brains of other therapists if they were to look at this art product?
The subject of a therapist’s recognition of beauty in client artwork and how such recognition may influence the therapist’s response to the client and her or his image is well-documented in art therapy textbooks. Art therapists are trained to be aware of the countertransference issues that can be raised when beauty is present. But who defines what beauty is?
According to Bevil Conway, associate professor of neuroscience at Wellesley College, our culture can’t decide what constitutes “beauty”. Consider how the aesthetics of fashion change, for example. But because our culture can’t decide what constitutes “beauty”, the neuroscientific community has been tasked with trying to figure it out. People seem to believe that if researchers can detect the activation of particular neural networks when an individual looks at something, that will define whether the thing is beautiful—regardless of what that individual’s personal opinion is. You can listen to Dr. Conway tackle the complex intersection of objective visual perception and subjective affective processing in this podcast, where he is interviewed by neuroscientist Ruchir Shah:
Although it’s a little dry for an audience of therapists, this interview has relevance to all the questions posed above and to issues of clinical interest such as autism and frontotemporal dementia. Most of all, it has relevance for every one of us who ever thought that beauty is only skin deep; it’s actually in the brain of the beholder.
With appreciation for the important work you do,
Megan November 2014