We know that the brain processes what we see, hear, taste, smell, and feel with our senses, by storing the details of these experiences in different regions of the brain. There are no single complete traces of individual visual images existing in one place in our mind, even though we can visualize them in our mind’s eye. We also know that a part of our brain monitors our incoming experiences for their emotional content and puts in boldface those that are worrisome and important to our survival so that we remember their details.
Further, we know that the brain’s communication network to every region of the brain is so sophisticated that we can instantaneously integrate our experiential information, form new ideas, and tell others about them. We can even describe our thought processes to others. We understand that our brain has the metaphorical capacity of a high-speed computer’s search engine that is architecturally housed in the area behind our skeletal forehead. This search engine allows us not only to access what we know but also provides enough working memory space to consider several ideas at the same time.
How then does our brain actually store visual images and sounds related to the arts? The visual images that we see and the sounds that we hear occur in specific places; they exist within social contexts. The social context becomes part of the information that is stored with each visual image and each sound.
As you study the painting, your brain registers each of the details involving the content, colors, textures, shapes, and sizes of areas within the painting, and stores them, along with the place where you saw the painting, in a wide variety of brain regions. Your attention to the number and specificity of details in the visual image and its social context influence how easily you will be able to recall the painting, the artist, or its location in the future.