MODERATOR: Jamshed Bharucha
PARTICIPANTS: David Freedberg, Matthew Ritchie, Luke Syson, Edward A. Vessel
PROGRAM DATE: Sunday, June 2, 2013

What happens in our brains when we see artwork that we find beautiful? Why do we react this way, and what does it mean? Scientists in the emerging field of neuroaesthetics are probing what it is about art that moves us, using technologies that allow us to study the brain’s response in astounding detail. Their insights are providing us with a new way to look at art and the mind. This World Science Festival program brings together leading researchers in the field of neuroaesthetics, along with the dynamic painter and sculptor, Matthew Ritchie, to explore the power of visual art and the biology behind it.

Presented in collaboration with the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

  • Share This:


Jamshed Bharucha
Cognitive Neuroscientist

Jamshed Bharucha conducts research in cognitive psychology and neuroscience, focusing on the cognitive and neural basis of the perception of music. He is a past editor of the interdisciplinary journal Music Perception.

Dr. Bharucha is the twelfth president of The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art.


Art Historian

David Freedberg, the Pierre Matisse Professor of the history of art at Columbia University, is best known for his work related to psychological responses to art—particularly for his studies of iconoclasm and censorship. He is now devoting a substantial portion of his attention to collaborations with neuroscientists working in the fields of vision, movement, and emotion. For some time now he has been engaged in experimental collaborations with colleagues in the neurosciences, but he hopes that one day he will be able to return to his longstanding project focused on the cultural history of the architecture and dance of the Pueblo peoples. For the last three years, Freedberg has led the campaign to save Liberty Hall in Machiasport, Maine, a major historical building overlooking the site of the first sea battle of the American Revolution.

Much of Freedberg’s time is now taken up by his directorship of the Italian Academy for Advanced Studies in America and his commitment to fostering interdisciplinary work across the humanities and the sciences.

Painter, Sculptor, Digital Artist

Matthew Ritchie is a painter, sculptor and digital artist. His work combines science, architecture, history, and the dynamics of culture to explore the idea of information, and is featured in the collections of numerous institutions, including MoMA and the Guggenheim Museum. In 2001, Time magazine listed him as one of its 100 innovators for the new millennium.

Art Curator

Luke Syson is the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Curator in Charge of the Department of European Sculpture and Decorative Arts at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

He received his B.A. from the Courtauld Institute of Art, University of London, where he also studied for three years in the Ph.D. program, with a focus on ruler portraiture in 15th-century Milan, Ferrara, and Mantua. From 1991 to 2002, Syson was curator of medals at the British Museum in London, where he was the intellectual coordinator and co-curator of “Enlightenment: Discovering the World in the Eighteenth Century”, a new permanent gallery that opened in 2003 in the former King’s Library. From 2002 to 2003, he served as a senior curator on the planning team for the V&A’s Medieval and Renaissance Galleries. From 2003 to 2011, he worked at the National Gallery, London, as curator of Italian painting, 1460-1500. He organized the major exhibition “Leonardo da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan.” He also served as curator of the exhibition “Renaissance Siena: Art for a City” and co-curator of both “Renaissance Faces: Van Eyck to Titian” and “Pisanello: Painter to the Renaissance Court.”


Edward Vessel is an internationally recognized expert on neuroaesthetics. His research combines brain imaging with behavioral and computational approaches to study how individuals are moved by, and get pleasure from, visual experiences. He has been invited to speak on his work to professional and lay audiences at conferences and art museums across the U.S. and in Europe. Vessel studied cognitive science at The Johns Hopkins University and received his Ph.D. in neuroscience from the University of Southern California in 2004. He is currently a research scientist at the NYU Center for Brain Imaging, where he works directly with MR physicists to develop state-of-the-art techniques for improving functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and its applicability to understanding the link between behavior and the brain.