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  Neuroaesthetics

  An emerging discipline called neuroaesthetics is seeking to bring scientific objectivity to the study of art, and has already given us a better understanding of many masterpieces. The blurred imagery of Impressionist paintings seems to stimulate the brain’s amygdala, for instance. Since the amygdala plays a crucial role in our feelings, that finding might explain why many people find these pieces so moving.

  Could the same approach also shed light on abstract twentieth-century pieces, from Mondrian’s geometrical blocks of colour, to Pollock’s seemingly haphazard arrangements of splashed paint on canvas? Sceptics believe that people claim to like such works simply because they are famous. We certainly do have an inclination to follow the crowd. When asked to make simple perceptual decisions such as matching a shape to its rotated image, for example, people often choose a definitively wrong answer if they see others doing the same. It is easy to imagine that this mentality would have even more impact on a fuzzy concept like art appreciation, where there is no right or wrong answer.

  Angelina Hawley-Dolan, of Boston College, Massachusetts, responded to this debate by asking volunteers to view pairs of paintings — either the creations of famous abstract artists or the doodles of infants, chimps and elephants. They then had to judge which they preferred. A third of the paintings were given no captions, while many were labelled incorrectly — volunteers might think they were viewing a chimp’s messy brushstrokes when they were actually seeing an acclaimed masterpiece. In each set of trials, volunteers generally preferred the work of renowned artists, even when they believed it was by an animal or a child. It seems that the viewer can sense the artist’s vision in paintings, even if they can’t explain why.

  Robert Pepperell, an artist based at Cardiff University, creates ambiguous works that are neither entirely abstract nor clearly representational. In one study, Pepperell and his collaborators asked volunteers to decide how ‘powerful’ they considered an artwork to be, and whether they saw anything familiar in the piece. The longer they took to answer these questions, the more highly they rated the piece under scrutiny, and the greater their neural activity. It would seem that the brain sees these images as puzzles, and the harder it is to decipher the meaning, the more rewarding is the moment of recognition.

  And what about artists such as Mondrian, whose paintings consist exclusively of horizontal and vertical lines encasing blocks of colour? Mondrian’s works are deceptively simple, but eye-tracking studies confirm that they are meticulously composed, and that simply rotating a piece radically changes the way we view it. With the originals, volunteers’ eyes tended to stay longer on certain places in the image, but with the altered versions they would flit across a piece more rapidly. As a result, the volunteers considered the altered versions less pleasurable when they later rated the work.

  In a similar study, Oshin Vartanian of Toronto University asked volunteers to compare original paintings with ones which he had altered by moving objects around within the frame. He found that almost everyone preferred the original, whether it was a Van Gogh still life or an abstract by Miro. Vartanian also found that changing the composition of the paintings reduced activation in those brain areas linked with meaning and interpretation.

  In another experiment, Alex Forsythe of the University of Liverpool analysed the visual intricacy of different pieces of art, and her results suggest that many artists use a key level of detail to please the brain. Too little and the work is boring, but too much results in a kind of ‘perceptual overload’; according to Forsythe. What’s more, appealing pieces both abstract and representational, show signs of ‘fractals’ — repeated motifs recurring in different scales. Fractals are common throughout nature, for example in the shapes of mountain peaks or the branches of trees. It is possible that our visual system, which evolved in the great outdoors, finds it easier to process such patterns.

  It is also intriguing that the brain appears to process movement when we see a handwritten letter, as if we are replaying the writer’s moment of creation. This has led some to wonder whether Pollock’s works feel so dynamic because the brain reconstructs the energetic actions the artist used as he painted. This may be down to our brain’s ‘mirror neurons’, which are known to mimic others’ actions. The hypothesis will need to be thoroughly tested, however. It might even be the case that we could use neuroaesthetic studies to understand the longevity of some pieces of artwork. While the fashions of the time might shape what is currently popular, works that are best adapted to our visual system may be the most likely to linger once the trends of previous generations have been forgotten.

  It’s still early days for the field of neuroaesthetics — and these studies are probably only a taste of what is to come. It would, however, be foolish to reduce art appreciation to a set of scientific laws. We shouldn’t underestimate the importance of the style of a particular artist, their place in history and the artistic environment of their time. Abstract art offers both a challenge and the freedom to play with different interpretations. In some ways, it’s not so different to science, where we are constantly looking for systems and decoding meaning so that we can view and appreciate the world in a new way.

  Questions 27-30

  Choose the correct letter, A, B, C or D.

  Write the correct letter in boxes 27-30 on your answer sheet.

  27 In the second paragraph, the writer refers to a shape-matching test in order to illustrate

  A the subjective nature of art appreciation.

  B the reliance of modern art on abstract forms.

  C our tendency to be influenced by the opinions of others.

  D a common problem encountered when processing visual data.

  28 Angelina Hawley-Dolan’s findings indicate that people

  A mostly favour works of art which they know well.

  B hold fixed ideas about what makes a good work of art.

  C are often misled by their initial expectations of a work of art.

  D have the ability to perceive the intention behind works of art.

  29 Results of studies involving Robert Pepperell’s pieces suggest that people

  A can appreciate a painting without fully understanding it.

  B find it satisfying to work out what a painting represents.

  C vary widely in the time they spend looking at paintings.

  D generally prefer representational art to abstract art.

  30 What do the experiments described in the fifth paragraph suggest about the paintings of Mondrian?

  A They are more carefully put together than they appear.

  B They can be interpreted in a number of different ways.

  C They challenge our assumptions about shape and colour.

  D They are easier to appreciate than many other abstract works.

  Questions 31-33

  Complete the summary using the list of words, A-H, below.

  Write the correct letters, A-H, in boxes 31-33 on your answer sheet.

  Art and the Brain

  The discipline of neuroaesthetics aims to bring scientific objectivity to the study of art. Neurological studies of the brain, for example, demonstrate the impact which Impressionist paintings have on our 31 __________. Alex Forsythe of the University of Liverpool believes many artists give their works the precise degree of 32 __________ which most appeals to the viewer’s brain. She also observes that pleasing works of art often contain certain repeated 33 __________ which occur frequently in the natural world.

  A interpretation B complexity C emotions

  D movements E skill F layout

  G concern H images

  Questions 34-39

  Do the following statements agree with the views of the writer in Reading Passage 3?

  In boxes 34-39 on your answer sheet, write

  YES if the statement agrees with the views of the writer

  NO if the statement contradicts the views of the writer

  NOT GIVEN if there is no information on this

  34 Forsythe’s findings contradicted previous beliefs on the function of ‘fractals’ in art.

  35 Certain ideas regarding the link between ‘mirror neurons’ and art appreciation require further verification.

  36 People’s taste in paintings depends entirely on the current artistic trends of the period.

  37 Scientists should seek to define the precise rules which govern people’s reactions to works of art.

  38 Art appreciation should always involve taking into consideration the cultural context in which an artist worked.

  39 It is easier to find meaning in the field of science than in that of art.

  Question 40

  Choose the correct letter, A, B, C or D.

  Write the correct letter in box 40 on your answer sheet.

  40 What would be the most appropriate subtitle for the article?

  A Some scientific insights into how the brain responds to abstract art

  B Recent studies focusing on the neural activity of abstract artists

  C A comparison of the neurological bases of abstract and representational art

  D How brain research has altered public opinion about abstract art

  以下是该篇阅读题目的答案解析,来了解一下:

  Question 27

  答案:C

  关键词:second paragraph, a shape-matching test

  定位原文:第二段

  解题思路:题目:在第二段,作者提到图形匹配试验是为了证明:A.艺术鉴赏的主观性质;B.现代艺术对抽象形式的依赖; C.我们倾向于被他人的意见影响;D.加工视觉数据时遇到的普遍问题。本题问的是提及a shape-matching test的作用,首先需要在原文中找到这个信息,然后在周围寻找论点型的句子,这类句子往往在具体的例子之前。题目中的a shape-matching test出现在文章第二段第四句,而这句的内容是为了说明第三句的an inclination to follow the crowd, 然后在选项中寻找这个内容的同义替换,可以看到C选项表达的含义与此一致, 因此本题答案为C。

  Question 28:

  答案:D

  关键词:Angelina Hawley-Dolan

  定位原文: 第三段

  解题思路:题目:Angelina Hawley Dolan的发现说明人们:A. 最喜欢那些他们了解很多的作品;B. 对于什么使艺术作品优秀持不变的观点;C. 经常被他们最初对作品的期待误导;D. 能力感知作品背后的意义。本题可以通过人名Angelina Hawley-Dolan定位到文章第三段。本段描述实验过程和观点,最后一句提到the viewer can sense the artist’s vision in paintings,这一表述与D选项的含义一致,因此本题答案为D。

  Question 29:

  答案:B

  关键词:Robert Pepperell

  定位原文:第四段

  解题思路:题目: Robert Pepperell作品的研究结果表明人们:A. 在没有完全理解一幅作品的情况下欣赏它;B. 明白—幅作品的含义会令人有满足感;C. 欣赞作品所花费的时间会相差许多;D. 相比抽象艺术,人们通常更喜欢具象的艺术。本题问到Robert Pepperell的研究结果,首先根据人名定位到文章第四段,本段对Robert Pepperell的研究及结果进行了描述。本段最后一句给出了结论,即破解其含义的过程越困难,人们越会感到rewarding, 这与 B选项的表达一致,因此本题答案为B

  Question 30:

  答案:A

  关键词:fifth paragraph

  定位原文: 第五段

  解题思路:题目:关于蒙德里安的作品,第五段描述的实验表明什么?A. 它们比看上去被更认真地组织在一起;B. 它们可以通过多种不同方式被解读;C. 它们挑战我们关于形状与色彩的看法;D. 它们比很多其他抽象作品更容易被欣赏。本题问的是关于蒙德里安作品的实验,可以根据题干信息定位到原文第五段,其中第二句说到其作品deceptively simple, but...meticulously composed,说明其作品会让人误以为非常简单,但其创作非常精细,这与A选项的表述一致,因此本题答案为A。

  Question 31:

  答案:C

  关键词:Impressionist paintings

  定位原文:第1段第2、3句 “The blurred imagery of…”

  解题思路:本题问到印象派绘画的影响。原文第一段第二、三句说到印象派绘画可以刺激大脑杏仁核,而杏仁核的作用是影响我们的feelings,选项中feelings 的同义替换emotions符合含义,因此本题答案为C。

  Question 32:

  答案:B

  关键词:Alex Forsythe

  定位原文:第7段第1句“In another experiment, Alex…”

  解题思路:本题可以根据人名定位至第七段,该段第一句提到她研究作品的visual intricacy, 而很多作品使用了 a key level of detail, 这与B选项complexity的含义一致,因此本题答案为B。

  Question 33:

  答案:H

  关键词:repeated, natural world

  定位原文: 第7段第3句“What's more, appealing pieces…”

  解题思路:题干中的pleasing works 与原文第七段第三句中的appealing pieces 为同义替 换,而原文之后提到的repeated motifs 与题目中的repeated _____ 对应,选项中images与motifs含义一致,因此本题答案为H。

  Question 34:

  答案:NOT GIVEN

  关键词:fractals

  定位原文:第7段第3、4句“What's more, appealing pieces…”

  解题思路:关于fractal的表述在原文第7段第3、4句出现,但这里只是描述了这种情况在很多作品中出现,并且在自然界中也比较普遍,对于Forsythe的发现与之前的观点是否存在矛盾并没有提及,因此本题“Forsythe的发现与之前关于艺术中的分形作用的观点相矛盾”未被提及,答案为NOT GIVEN。

  Question 35:

  答案:YES

  关键词:mirror neurons

  定位原文:第8段3、4、5句“This may be down to our brain's…”

  解题思路:题目中提到的“镜像神经元”与艺术鉴赏有关的观点出现在原文第八段,其中说到了This may be down to... 以及 The hypothesis will need to be thoroughly tested,说明目前这一观点还没有形成定论,需要进一步的验证,这与题目表述“require further verification”一致,因此本题答案为YES。

  Question 36:

  答案:NO

  关键词:artistic trends of the period

  定位原文:第8段最后一句“While the fashions of the time…”

  解题思路:本题说到人们艺术品位的问题,原文第八段最后一句提到一些作品在流行趋势结束之 后依然受人喜欢,这些作品往往是best adapted to our visual system,所以完全依赖于当前艺术趋势的说法是错误的,因此本题答案为NO。

  Question 37:

  答案:NO

  关键词:people's reactions to works of art

  定位原文:第9段第2句“It would, however, be foolish to…”

  解题思路:关于科学家是否需要定义精准的规则,原文第九段第二句中有提及,作者认为reduce art appreciation to a set of scientific laws是foolish的,这与题目的表述相反,因此本题答案为NO。

  Question 38:

  答案:YES

  关键词:cultural context

  定位原文:第9段第3句 “We shouldn't underestimate…”

  解题思路:文章第9段第3句已经说到,应当关注the importance of the style of a particular artist, their place in history and the artistic environment of their time,这与题目中所说的 cultural context in which an artist worked 一致,因此本题答案为 YES。

  Question 39:

  答案:NOT GIVEN

  关键词:the filed of science

  定位原文:第9段最后一句“In some ways, it's not so different to science…”

  解题思路:在文章第9段最后一句中,说到艺术和科学not so different,而科学一直寻求decode meaning,此处关于find meaning的描述并没有将艺术和科学进行对比,也就不存在easier的问题,因此本题答案为NOT GIVEN。

  Question 40:

  答案:A

  关键词:subtitle

  定位原文:全文主题考查

  解题思路:题目:本文最合适的副标题是什么?A. 关于大脑如何对抽象艺术做出反应的一些科学见解;B. 最近一些关注抽象派艺术家神经活动的研究;C. 关于抽象和具象艺术的神经基础的对;D. 关于大脑的研究如何改变人们对抽象艺术的看法。四个选项分别提到了大脑对抽象艺术的反应、抽象派艺术家的神经活动、抽象和具象艺术的神经基础对比以及人们对抽象艺术看法的改变,通过对四个选项主题词的对比,可以看到只有A选项符合文章内容并且是全文一直在讨论的话题。当然,为了验证文章构思,如果以此为副标题,反过来看看写出的文章与本文是否一致。因此本题答案为A。

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