Gaze upon this painting—Le Grande Odalisque ("The Big Odalisque"), by the French artist Ingres. What do you think? Is it as fun as looking at your boyfriend? No? It doesn't matter what you think! Your brain loves it.
A recent study found that Ingres' art—along with that of British Romantic John Constable and Italian Baroque painter Guido Reni—provoked a near-10 percent increase in blood flow to the part of the brain associated with pleasure, the highest of any artists included in the study. This is, The Daily Telegraph informs us, "the equivalent of gazing at a loved one"; in other words, looking at paintings you find beautiful can be as joyful as nearly any other experience. (I already knew that, you might say; but no, you know nothing until science has proven it.)
What does this mean for Art, with a capital A? It means that those three artists are, scientifically, the best artists of all time. But wait, you're asking. How can I be sure that the study subjects weren't unduly influenced by current tastes and the fashionability of the artist? Fret not:
The test was carried out on dozens of people, who were picked at random but who had little prior knowledge of art and therefore would not be unduly influenced by current tastes and the fashionability of the artist.
Yes, there is "taste" and "fashion" — and then there is Art, eternal, neutral, and unchanging. And its greatest pracitioner is John Constable.
[Telegraph; image via Wikipedia]