This is my anthropology research project presentation materials on creating color artwork.

Artwork Creation

Art is an activity based on symbolic and abstract cognition (Zaidel 2013). Color artworks are widely considered to be one of the pinnacles of human civilization (De Pisapia et al. 2016). Art is a product of creativity and a superior skill. With artwork, it is also possible to express feelings and attitudes, in addition to describing events and objects (Demarin 2016). Artwork creation involves some mechanisms of problem-solving, idea generation, and idea evaluation, and persists over hundreds or thousands of years (De Pisapia et al. 2016). Humans display an exorbitant capacity for creativity, which likely reflects the unique neurological organization of the human brain and selective evolutionary pressures (Zaidel 2014). It is currently believed that artistic ability exists to varying degrees in most or all people and that some people have greater abilities in certain arts (De Pisapia et al. 2016).

Genetics and Epigenetics

Remarkable artistic talent seems to be an inborn ability, which is rare and likely not heritable, and culture plays a role in the expression of artistic talent (Zaidel 2014).


In the U.S., 27% of adults created visual art like painting and art photography in 2017. Young adults were more likely to create artworks: 18% of young adults aged 18‐34 years old compared to only 13% of all adults. Interest in art correlates with the level of education. Among adults with a college or graduate degree, 61% and 70%, had attended visual art events, while only 9% with grade school education and 28% with high school. The main reason for attending was socialization, 82% (U.S. Patterns of Arts Participation 2019).


Artworks of children before age 7 are remarkedly similar across cultures and experiential backgrounds, which might be explained by their stages of cognitive development, specifically with Piaget's preoperational and concrete operational stages, with the elements of the formal operation. Their representative works tend to have conflicting viewpoints, disintegrated composition, and multiple time frames. Children everywhere include important for them elements of concrete and abstract reality in their artworks and are concerned with the aesthetic quality of the results (Hamblen, 1985). The children of the nomadic Orotchen tribe in Northern Siberia were able to draw realistic reindeer with the sophistication of adolescents or adults in Western cultures, despite minimal previous training in the use of pencil and paper (Hamblen, 1985).


Across cultures and throughout recorded history, humans created visual artworks (De Pisapia 2016). Creating artwork is practiced in human cultures worldwide (Zaidel 2013).  Few cultures have created art solely for its own sake, especially as an abstract expression. Graphic expressions start to differ cross-culturally after formal enculturation. Most cultures were introduced to artistic models of other cultures through communication, trade, travel, etc., but not all styles of visual expression were adopted. For example, when European missionaries introduced linear perspective and chiaroscuro shading to China, these conventions were first incorporated into Chinese art and then largely abandoned (Hamblen, 1985).


According to Zaidel (2013), artwork creation requires complex cognitive multi-processing, which depends on various brain regions. Art appears to be non-functional. The brain regions and pathways theory links art creation to multiple neural areas (Zaidel 2013). Remote conceptual associations, disregarding familiar patterns, and access to preserved knowledge and conceptual semantic systems are essential for creative arts, and a healthy brain with intact well-myelinated axons, synapses, and normal levels of neurotransmitters like dopamine are the required foundation for art innovation (Zaidel 2014).

According to De Pisaria et al., neurocognitive research on creativity in general is at a very early stage. Some forms of creativity possibly depend on the simultaneous engagement of two cognitive processes, executive control and spontaneous thinking, which are usually considered to work in competition. The researchers investigated the neural bases of the visual art process in 12 professional artists and in a control group of 12 non-artists, altogether 24 healthy participants, 14 male and 10 female, to test the hypothesis that planning an artwork would influence the connectivity between brain regions involved in the network used for generating new ideas and the network that is used for evaluation and selecting ideas. With fMRI, they measured the connectivity during artwork planning, rest, and a passive visual activity and, with the help of the vividness of visual imagery questionnaire, found that it was stronger during creating artwork, particularly in professional artists. Professionals in the fine arts have developed a higher efficiency in the brain areas involved in making artwork. The executive control network had weaker connectivity towards the right inferior prefrontal gyrus, which is implicated in inhibitory control, which suggests decreased inhibition during artwork creation (De Pisapia et al. 2016).

Art engages the social brain in humans, who are not passive perceivers of artworks but engage with it dynamically as with a social artifact. Perceptual analysis of artwork features, colors, forms, and spatial relationships takes place first, and within 750 ms after the presentation, the brain assesses whether it is beautiful or not, engaging the occipital, temporal, and parietal areas of the brain. Within the limbic system, amygdalae are engaged by viewing portrait paintings and in aesthetic evaluations, and the left hippocampus when viewing highly moving artworks (van Leeuwen et al. 2022).

Visual artists explore the potentials and capacities of the brain and the visual system. Artistic exaggeration can make it easier for humans to understand what they see, plus contrast helps identify objects efficiently. The brain is drawn to the kind of visual stimuli that are easier for it to interpret. For example, the fusiform gyrus, the brain area involved in facial recognition, responds faster to caricatures than to real faces. Cells in the visual cortex respond to straight lines and angles of light because neurons prefer contrast over brightness and straight edges over curves, like in the geometrical art of abstract painters like Piet Mondrian and Kazimir Malevich. Our color perception depends on the responses from three photoreceptors in the eye. The visual cortex excels at perceiving contrasts between different colors, but low color contrast in painting can create unusual perceptions like shimmer and shifting. Abstraction in art can also serve as a puzzle, and the search for meaning has a rewarding effect on the brain, as well as constructing a sensory problem to solve (Lehrer 2009). Creative artists have less marked hemispheric dominance than uncreative people. The right hemisphere is the center of visualization and imagination and specializes in metaphoric thinking, playfulness, solution finding, synthesizing, and conceptualization, However, the left hemisphere is also essential for creating outstanding artwork (Demarin 2016).

Visual artists intuitively attempt to achieve the optimal balance between predictability and surprise to give pleasure to the viewer and to postpone the final gratification. Reduction of unpredictability is experienced as positive and pleasurable. The degree of mental effort viewers make to compensate for unpredictability is related to dopamine reward, and unexpected reward is associated with increased dopamine peaks. Interpretation of novel visual patterns leads to feelings of pleasure because they activate associations in the ventral visual pathway with dense opioid receptors (Kesner 2014).


Creating art can change the levels of hormones, particularly those responsible for stress. Artwork creation can be relaxing, helpful for self-discovery, freeing from constraints, and aiding the state of flow, as was evident from the written responses in one study on the impact of visual art-making on cortisol levels had 39 healthy 18-59 years old participants, who provided saliva samples before and after a 45-minute art-making session and answered a questionnaire afterward. Artwork creation with colorful markers, collage materials, and clay resulted in lower cortisol levels, regardless of age, gender, previous experiences, or media choice. Cortisol is a glucocorticoid hormone and a well-studied marker of stress (Kaimal 2016).

Adaptive Value

Mate Selection

The theory of art display and aesthetics tides art to the biological motivation of mating, which explains aesthetic signaling via artwork as a strategy for mate selection and courtship in animals. The biological roots of art are hypothesized to be in animal courtship displays, by which signaling of health and genetic quality is intended for potential mates (Zaidel 2013). A convincing example of creating colorful art installations could be the elaborately decorated structures erected by some birds, specifically by the male Courtship bowers of the bowerbird Amblyornis inornatus. Multiple varieties of these birds build tall towers decorated with varying color objects like snail shells, fruits, flowers, stones, butterfly wings, and interesting large seeds. The styles and complexity vary among ages and geographical locations and can be partly learned, or culturally transmitted like human art styles (Diamond 1986). In animals and humans, art is a quick indicator of status, which is key to acquiring resources and mates. Creating or presenting artwork often serves a seductive purpose or designates the beginnings of romantic attachments. Individual humans and whole societies supported themselves by making and trading artwork (Diamond 1992).  There are more associations of the arts to intersexual selection in women and to intrasexual selection in men (Varella 2022).


Human ancestors created representational artifacts depicting real and imaginary creatures and abstractions tens of thousands of years ago (De Pisapia 2016). The evolutionary theory of art links artwork symbolism to the critical brain changes in Homo sapiens that allowed further development of language and hierarchical social grouping (Zaidel 2013). Archaeological research shows, that early evidence of symbolic activity is not associated with art production in humans, and there is a large time gap until sporadic art appeared in early Homo sapiens, and only much later in evolutionary terms the art practice became regular (Zaidel 2013). Cohesion, the group’s ability to stay together, depends on its culture, which includes art, and it contributes to personal and group identity (Diamond 1992). The formation of sicioculture in bigger groups and intragroup cooperation are considered to be the major factors for the consistent manufacturing of artworks in humans. Early art creation is associated with body ornaments and decorations in the first-layered societies (Zaidel 2013). Visual art is thought to play an important role in transmitting knowledge and communicating complex mental abstractions, bypassing language barriers, and cultural, educational, or economic backgrounds, and aiding group cohesion (De Pisapia et al. 2016).

Color Vision

Most likely, the early vertebrates and many fish, reptiles, and birds now have four types of cone receptors, while early mammals lost this multidimensional color vision and retained only the cone classes sensitive to the longest and shortest wavelengths (Bompas et al. 2013). During the early history of eutherian mammals, they retained only two of the four cone opsin gene families found in other vertebrates, which left them with a single dimension of color vision. Primates then evolved several visual system alterations to expand the ability to differentiate colors (Jacobs 2009).The strength of primate color vision comes not only from their higher abilities to discriminate colors but from evolving a large and plastic brain that allows them to use color information in a multitude of ways (Jacobs 2009). Human color vision appears to be optimized for picking fruit and young leaves among the background of mature leaves. The red-green dimension of human vision relates to the spatial visualization of a color. In the evolution of human vision, spotting fruit from a distance was an even more important selective advantage than picking fruit at arm’s reach (Bompas et al. 2013). Researchers tested human dichromats, anomalous trichromats, and normal trichromats in a nature-mimicking visual search task, in which participants had to find fruit pieces in a bush at 1, 4, 8 or 12 m viewing distance. The study found that the largest advantage in the performance of normal trichromacy over both types of color deficiency was the largest viewing distance (Bompas et al. 2013). An ancestor to African and Asian primates, with which humans share the type of color vision, reinvented full trichromatic vision, and humans now have three types of cones: shortwave, mediumwave, and longwave. The last two are very similar because they came from the one ancestral cone in mammals (Bompas et al. 2013).


Bompas, A., Kendall, G., & Sumner, P. (2013). Spotting fruit versus picking fruit as the selective advantage of human colour vision. i-Perception, 4(2), 84–94.

Demarin, V., Bedeković, M. R., Puretić, M. B., & Pašić, M. B. (2016). Arts, Brain and Cognition. Psychiatria Danubina, 28(4), 343–348.

Diamond J. (1986). Animal art: Variation in bower decorating style among male bowerbirds Amblyornis inornatus. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 83(9), 3042–3046.

Diamond, J. (1992). The third chimpanzee: the evolution and future of the human animal. New York, NY, HarperCollins.

Hamblen, K. A. (1985). Artistic Development as a Process of Universal-Relative Selection Possibilities. Visual Arts Research, 11(2), 69–83.

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Varella, M., Štěrbová, Z., Bártová, K., Fisher, M. L., & Valentova, J. V. (2022). Evolution of Artistic and Athletic Propensities: Testing of Intersexual Selection and Intrasexual Competition. Frontiers in psychology, 13, 925862.

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Lena Nechet, artist - Fine art, media productions, language.
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