Your Brain on Klimt

From Columbia Magazine:

In his new book, The Age of Insight, University Professor Eric Kandel explores the interface of art and neuroscience through portraits by three turn-of-the-century Austrian painters.

Your-brain-on-klimt-01This cross-pollination of scientific and artistic ideas was carried further by Klimt’s presence in the salon of Berta Zuckerkandl, whose husband, Emil Zuckerkandl, was a great anatomist and pathologist who worked with Rokitansky. Berta was an art historian, an art critic, and an enthusiastic supporter of Klimt. The Zuckerkandls introduced Klimt to biology, and he became fascinated with it. He read Darwin, attended Rokitansky’s lectures and dissections, looked through the microscope, and began to incorporate images of cells and other structures into his paintings. The oval shapes you see as decorative elements in some of the paintings were meant to represent ova, for instance, and rectangular shapes were his symbols for sperm. You see this in his painting The Kiss, and most explicitly in the painting Danaë, wherein Zeus impregnates Danaë in a shower of golden coins. Rectangular symbols indicate that the coins are really sperm. She’s like a reproductive machine; as the viewer moves from the left side of the canvas to the right, Danaë turns the rectangular sperm and circular ova into fertilized embryos, symbolizing conception.

One of the cornerstones of psychoanalytic thought is that the way to explore other people’s unconscious minds is to first explore your own. The Interpretation of Dreams is essentially Freud’s self-analysis. Klimt never painted any self-portraits or even portraits of men. He painted women exclusively.

More here.