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What Makes a Masterpiece?

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Is the power of great art  in its mysterious ability to move us? Science now claims to have discovered why we like the art we like with neuro-aesthetics, which examines how the brain processes art.

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Is the power of great art in its mysterious ability to move us? Science now claims to have discovered why we like the art we like with neuro-aesthetics, which examines how the brain processes art.

  • What Makes a Masterpiece?

    Art

    Matthew Cain explores the relationship between neuro-aesthetics and visual art.

    At London's Tate Britain a unique experiment is under way. Wearing specially designed goggles to track how eyes move around a painting and receptors to monitor breathing, sweating and heartbeat, Cain and members of the public are monitored to find out whether paintings can literally set our pulses racing or take our breath away.

    The experiments throw up some surprising results about what we respond most strongly to, even casting Brit Art enfant terrible Damien Hirst in a different light.

    UCL Professor Semir Zeki - one of neuro-aesthetics' leading lights - believes he's discovered a 'formula for beauty'. Zeki scans Cain's brain while showing him artwork from Lucien Freud to Leonardo da Vinci to see what stimulates a part of the brain Zeki terms the 'beauty spot'. Can Zeki tell which art Cain really likes or even if he's telling the truth?

    If there's a formula to good art, can the masterpieces of the future be created using a scientific check list? To find out, Matt commissions a painting combining everything he's learned about visual art.

    How will the piece fare in a trendy East London gallery? Will science change the way we create and view the art of the future, or is human creativity science's last frontier?

  • What Makes a Masterpiece?

    Music

    Matthew Cain explores music's extraordinary effect on the human brain, and learns that many composers are now exploiting the science of music in their work.

    Travelling to the US, he meets Mike McReady, the creator of Hit Song Science - an algorithmic computer programme that shows how every hit song ever recorded falls into 'hit clusters', with many hits using the same four chords.

    Now, artists and record labels are turning to the programme to predict chart success.

    Using brain scans and monitors, Cain sees how listening to his favourite music changes his heartbeat and skin temperature and discovers clues to the evolutionary basis of music. He finds out how rhythm can bond people, and how different chords, tempo and rhythm stimulate the brain to release chemicals and produce certain moods.

    Cain meets singer Will Young and composer Eg White to discuss if song writing is a creative process or a scientific one. Cain and White create a new tune specially crafted to tap into the reward pathways of the brain, and test it out at a nightclub. Will it be a hit on the dancefloor?

    Can music be cynically created to move us? Or does it still need a mysterious musical brilliance and a cultural context to stand the test of time?

  • What Makes a Masterpiece?

    Stories and Film

    Advances in neuroscience are allowing scientists to measure exactly what goes on in our brains when the cinema lights go down and the action begins. Matthew Cain learns why Jaws is so effective and why we're drawn to horror movies, and finds out about the neurons that actually make us 'feel' the fear and tension.

    One experiment even shows just how differently men and women respond to the same scene in a James Bond movie, prompting the question: if directors want to fill the multiplexes, should they make his and hers versions of the same film?

    And if science has found the answers, will it be used to manipulate what we think, what we like and even what we buy? Cain sees how advertisers are using science to read our subconscious responses to commercials in order to create the most effective ads.

    Matthew also meets Christopher Booker, who believes that every story ever told adheres to one of seven basic plots; and Gurindha Chada, the director of Bend It Like Beckham and Bride and Prejudice, who talks about the formula of storytelling.

    Finally, Matthew tries to put the principles he has learned to the test when he makes an animated story of his own and measures its effect on the brain.

What Makes a Masterpiece? synopsis

Is the power of great art in its mysterious ability to move us? Science now claims to have discovered why we like the art we like with neuro-aesthetics, which examines how the brain processes art.

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