Ambiguity in art

Mona Lisa

Where science meets art there are those who see unsubtle reductionism as somehow detracting from aesthetics and there are those who suggest that art seeks objective reality only in a subjective way. The divide between art and science has seemingly never been greater, although some of our most revered historical intellects, perhaps most notably Leonardo da Vinci, would not have understood this arbitrary bifurcation of human endeavour. Indeed, the flip side of the cultural divide posits that art and science are simply two faces of the same coin, endlessly turning and laying the condition of reality bare through the machinations of the human mind.

In this paper, Igor Yevin of the Russian Academy of Sciences seeks to provide science with the tools necessary to understand the nature of artistic perception and so quantify our aesthetic sense. He reviews the notion of ambiguity in art and shows how a mathematical model of ambiguous patterns seen in artistic works can help us understand how the human brain functions. Moreover, ambiguity, whether an optical illusion or trompe d’oeil in painting, a pun or joke, or the ambiguity we enjoy in both literature, drama, and even sculpture, he claims, could be intrinsic to the incredible adaptability of the brain. The human brain, after all, is considered to be the most complex system in the universe, its ability to process ambiguous patterns and sensory inputs may have evolved to allow it to function on the cusp of stability and so be amenable to adapting to any given environmental pressure with what we commonly refer to as creative thought.

Read my full item on ambiguity in art, which originally accompanied Yevin’s paper in the journal Complexus.