The Wall Street Journal (paywall) reports on a meta-analysis out of the University of Toronto that gathered the results of 15 recent studies from seven countries that mapped the MRI scans of participants while they viewed images of paintings by famous and unknown artists.
Of the 330 participants, ages 19-59, some were asked to use some “aesthetic judgement” when viewing the images, and some weren’t, but overall the paintings activated plenty of regions of their brains, including the visual cortex (which of course processes shapes and colors), and the fusiform gyrus and parahippocampal gyrus (perception, objects and places). The anterior temporal lobe was highlighted, meaning that viewing the art sparked “higher-order mental processing.”
Wait, there’s more! Other regions lit up, one associated with “inner thoughts and emotional experiences” and another that signals “experienced or anticipated pleasure,” but, then, only images of paintings were used in the study. Researchers did not study participants’ brains’ reactions to sculpture, performance, video, or conceptual art.