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the Complete Review
the complete review - science/art

Inner Vision

Semir Zeki

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To purchase Inner Vision

Title: Inner Vision
Author: Semir Zeki
Genre: Science/Art
Written: 1999
Length: 219 pages
Availability: Inner Vision - US
Inner Vision - UK
Inner Vision - Canada
  • An Exploration of Art and the Brain

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Our Assessment:

B+ : interesting ideas, well presented survey of how the brain perceives "art"

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Nature . 9/3/2000 John Nash
The NY Rev. of Books . 21/9/2000 Israel Rosenfield
The Spectator A- 22/1/2000 Sargy Mann
TLS . 3/11/2000 Keith Miller
Die Zeit A+ (19/2001) Lars Gustafsson

  From the Reviews:
  • "In Inner Vision, Zeki is less concerned with what neurophysiology can tell us about art than what art can tell us about neurophysiology." - Israel Rosenfield, The New York Review of Books

  • "Semir Zeki (...) covers an amazing amount of fascinating but difficult ground with the elegant clarity which can only come from a true command of the subject. (...) My only criticism of this book is that it has not yet gone far enough. Most of what it does, and does so beautifully clearly, is fascinating and hugely thought-provoking and I look forward with excited anticipation to its sequel in ten or 20 years' time." - Sargy Mann, The Spectator

  • "Semir Zeki, in his rigorous and stimulating, if inevitably somewhat reductive book, thinks that there is more to vision than the passive reception by the brain of a ready-made image formed in the eye." - Keith Miller, Times Literary Supplement

  • "Was sein Buch so befreiend neu und interessant macht, ist, dass er diese Erkenntnis auf die Malkunst anwendet. (...) Was er aus neurologischer Sicht über verschiedene Künstler zu sagen hat, ist stets sehr anregend." - Lars Gustafsson, Die Zeit

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       As a neurologist Semir Zeki is concerned with the workings of the brain. In this book he explores what has been learned about the workings of the brain in relation to aesthetic experience, specifically the perception of art. Zeki focusses on the visual arts, as the visual brain is an area about which enough is now known to make some interesting observations ("at least at the perceptual level").
       Neurologically-based theories of aesthetics might strike some as heresy. Daunting chapter titles such as "The pathology of the Platonic Ideal and the Hegelian Concept" and "Mondrian, Malevich and the neurophysiology of oriented lines" might also, at first glance, be off-putting. But Zeki's book is certainly worth reading, and the information presented quite fascinating.
       Organized in short, well-illustrated chapters Zeki presents a variety of observations and theories about how our brain perceives art (i.e. how the visual information is processed) and offers a few intereting conclusions regarding notions of aesthetics -- specifically why certain paintings are more pleasing to the eye than others. Much about the workings of the brain is still a great mystery, but a good deal has been explored (if not fully explained). Vision, in particular, has become much better understood. Conclusions can, indeed, be drawn from what has been discovered, and Zeki convincingly suggests why certain paintings are considered "better" than others.
       Zeki's focus is on abstract art, as he acknowledges that representational art brings with it additional layers of complexity. The work of Malevich, Mondrian and others where colour and geometry are the essential features make for useful examples. However, Zeki does not ignore other painters, and from his interesting observations regarding the use of light by Vermeer to a consideration of Monet's brain he shows what valuable contributions neurolgy can already make to aesthetic theory. He is also certainly correct in believing that this rich field holds great promise for the future.
       Zeki, a leading authority regarding the brain, also shows great familiarity with (and appreciation of) art. He ably ties together art, science, and philosophy (yes, there is a fair amount of sensible stuff about the Platonic ideal as well). The book represents what one one imagines is only the tip of the iceberg; as the brain is better understood, a lot more will be added. Nevertheless, this is a useful survey of current knowledge, with a great deal of information about a fascinating field.
       Recommended for all those interested in the visual arts, and those interested in the workings of the brain.

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Inner Vision:
  • Inner Vision at at the Laboratory of Neurobiology, University College
Reviews: Art and the Brain: Semir Zeki: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Neurologist Semir Zeki is a research scientist at the Cognitive Neurology Unit of University College, London.

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