In a curious combination of history and neuroscience, John Onians has created the field of neuroarthistory. By incorporating insights from working with neurobiologist Samir Zeki, who pioneered the field of neuroaesthetics, Onians is attempting to recreate the possible world view and temperament of historical artists. Zeki and his students study a phenomenon they call “neural plasticity”, which explains how life experiences shape visual preferences. The findings of this research have led art historians and others to a greater understanding of how neurology and human behavior interact.

In his book Neuroarthistory: From Aristotle and Pliny to Baxandall and Zeki, Onians offers an explanation why "Florentine painters made more use of line and Venetian painters more of color” by understanding the neural basis of human behavior, specifically in artists. These same insights help us understand how the complex interactions of physiology and culture shape our preferences and make us who we are.

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