Art, Vision and the Brain: An Exploration of Color and Brightness (2014-2015)

Painting, drawing, sculpture, weaving—each is a visual medium for both the artist and the viewer. Although we often think of vision as the act of seeing a physical depiction of the world, we are actually constructing a representation of the world through a complicated process by which light signals are transformed by the eye and brain. As such, scientists and artists both work toward understanding many aspects of visual perception. Art informs how we see, and as we learn more about how the brain works, we deepen our appreciation of both art and science. Processing of color and brightness has many implications for both perception and art. Moreover, elements of visual perception (luminance, contrast sensitivity and color vision) are affected in diseases of and trauma to the retina and brain. Understanding the neural mechanisms of visual perception will aid the development of medical treatments and medical devices for these disorders.

This project team explored the topic of color and brightness in art and the visual system using art in the Nasher Museum of Art’s collection and archives. Team members analyzed how color and luminance are treated in art, using a combination of image processing analyses and spectrophotometric studies. These analyses informed the design and testing of psychophysical experiments exploring how the brain processes color and luminance. The project culminated with an exhibition at the Nasher Museum curated by the team as well as a co-organized symposium in conjunction with the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences (DIBS).


Summer 2014 – Spring 2015

Team Outcomes

Seeing Color: Art, Vision and the Brain (exhibition catalogue by Elizabeth Johnson, Eleonora Lad, Sina Farsiu, Marianne Wardle, Charlie Hass, Emily Chen, Indrani Saha, Justin Yu)

Seeing Color: Art, Vision and the Brain (symposium program)

Art, Vision and the Brain (poster by Emily Chen, Indrani Saha, Justin Yu)

Being Within: Disruption and Disorientation in Carlos Cruz-Diez's Chromosaturation (honors thesis by Indrani Saha)


Art, Vision and the Brain: Part 1, Summer 2014

Art, Vision and the Brain: Part 2, 2015


Indrani Saha

This Team in the News

Adventures at the Intersection of Art and Cognition

Meet the Members of the Bass Connections Student Advisory Council

Three Juniors Honored With Faculty Scholars Award (Indrani Saha)

See related team, Art, Vision and the Brain (2015-2016).

Team Leaders

  • Sina Farsiu, Pratt School of Engineering-Biomedical Engineering
  • Elizabeth Johnson, School of Medicine-Neurology
  • Eleonora Lad, School of Medicine-Ophthalmology
  • Marianne Wardle, Nasher Museum of Art

/undergraduate Team Members

  • Emily Chen, Neuroscience (BS)
  • Indrani Saha, Program II (AB)
  • Justin Yu, Biomedical Engineering (BSE)

/yfaculty/staff Team Members

  • Charlie Hass, School of Medicine-Neurobiology