How Novelty in Art Moves and Motivates Us

“The main thing is to be moved, to love, to hope, to tremble, to live.”

― Auguste Rodin.

Barbara Hagerty, Journalist, Novelist, and Yale Law School Post-Graduate, said, “Our brains resist change, they rail against it, our amygdala will always want the safe bet. But are the obstacles truly insurmountable? Is it a brick wall? Or is it a sliding door, which, once you decide to approach it, begins to swish open? Because even though our brains prefer safety in the short run, in the long run they crave meaning, challenge, and novelty.”

When Art depicts images which are entirely novel, or even some which are different from familiar images, research has shown that the brain reacts in positive ways. For example, it releases dopamine, a significant ‘pleasure’ response neuro-transmitter, generally believed to be associated with ‘reward.’ But new studies have shown that in fact its release is more closely associated with ‘motivation’, and ‘learning’ – this in response to seeing novelty in imagery. By ‘novelty’, I don’t mean in the ‘populist’ sense of being so radically different from a traditional view of the same thing, that it’s almost un-recognisable, but the quality of being new, or following from that, of being striking, original or unusual. As an Artist, if your picture, be it a painting or drawing, has novelty within it, the viewer experiences this type of response and will seek affirmation, wanting to see more of your artwork in a search for meaning, and interestingly, in a search for more novelty.

I will concede, however, that most of us who engage in any of the Arts, even though we may be aware of these subtly intriguing neural responses to our artwork, are, nevertheless, happily oblivious to what is going on. As van Gogh has said, “I experience a period of frightening clarity in those moments when nature is so beautiful. I am no longer sure of myself, and the paintings appear as in a dream.”. We are content to keep on painting, just ‘doing our thing’ - happy that we are doing something we love to do. Little do we realise how profoundly we may be affecting those who view our art!