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SEEING NATURE: October 10, 2015 – January 10, 2016

The Pacific Northwest is “a neuroscience powerhouse,” in the words of Oregon Congressman Earl Blumenauer. World-class research conducted at Oregon Health & Science University’s Brain Institute in Portland and at the Allen Institute for Brain Science in Seattle has put our region on the map for the study of brain and behavior. The Museum is collaborating with these and other regional partners to bring a neuroscience lens to the featured exhibition Seeing Nature: Landscape Masterworks from the Paul G. Allen Family Collection. Through an interpretive gallery inside the exhibition and a series of public programs, visitors will have unique opportunities to learn more about “the nature of seeing,” exploring what emerging research tells us about how our brains respond when we view landscape paintings and the natural world.

“People talk about how our brains are wired to see landscapes, to look at landscapes and to see what’s going on in them—so there’s something about landscapes that seems almost universally attractive,” Paul Allen has said. “It’s a way of looking outward.”

When you stand in front of a masterpiece by Claude Monet, for example, your extraordinary visual experience depends on the routing of information along networks of living neurons to wired regions of your brain. When your eye is caught by the vibrant purple, green, and red of David Hockney’s The Grand Canyon or the expansive impression of space in Canaletto’s The Rialto Bridge, a rather specific part of your brain is responding. Emerging research in the field of neuroscience can shine more light on the pathways and brain regions involved in our perception of art, as well as creativity, memory, and emotion.

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Special thanks to our partners at OHSU’s Brain Institute, the Allen Institute for Brain Science, and the Northwest Neuroscience Outreach Group (NW Noggin) for their support in developing the “Nature of Seeing” interpretive gallery and related programs.


Download the Brain Challenge
Do you ever wonder what happens in your brain when you look at a painting? How does paint on a canvas trigger a sense of depth, excitement, or anxiety? The Brain Challenges in this family-friendly guide will lead you on an exploration of five paintings in the Seeing Nature exhibition, offering tidbits of brain science along the way. Written by Bill Griesar and Jeff Leake of NW Noggin, with illustrations by Mia Nolting.

NW NOGGIN: Neuroscience Outreach Group

NW Noggin is a vigorous, creative, and largely volunteer effort to bring scientists, artists, and students of all ages together to share their expertise, enthuse young people about science and art, share area educational resources, and inform and excite the public about ongoing neuroscience research.