“Guillaume Bottazzi’s paintings have been reported to reduce anxiety due to their calming nature, and instead of communicating a bold or controversial statement, they bring visitors a sence of peace.”
Tokyo Weekender magazine, May 2019
“Sometimes Guillaume Bottazzi casts aside a linen canvas in favour of a softer, even silkier fabric, stretched to the extreme, the red tint of which serves as a background. Like Matisse, he has understood that the texture of a fabric has this capacity to radiate everything while inducing the impression of an infinite space. […] On it Bottazzi leaves traces of tints, often white, always pale, as if the essential thing were to safeguard the breath of the gesture. But he is not a calligrapher. His hand manages more a caress than a movement. […] Sometimes the whiteness is obtained by a light touch of plaster. Sometimes it is an oil colour that is laid down as a glaze.”
Le Vif/L’Express magazine, November 2016
“At the forefront of the avant-garde school of contemporary art, Bottazzi continues to use classic techniques that push the limits of abstraction: pigments applied directly to the raw canvas for transparency and glazes to diffuse the light and sculpt it.”
AZART magazine, March 2010
“For this visual artist, art is a powerful medium that must encourage our personal development and push us to reinvent ourselves.”
L’Oeil magazine & Le Journal des Arts, May 2014
“The immersive tools provided by abstract art allow Bottazzi to create ethereal shapes that, as if they were stream, are blurred and blended with the surface. The support is an integral part of the piece and gives off the idea of infinity.”
Arte Al Limite magazine, July / August 2017
“Not all artists can scientifically prove that their art does good. But Guillaume Bottazzi is the exception. A study by Dr. Marcos Nadal and Professor Helmut Leder, neuroscientists at the University of Vienna, has shown that the shapes and colours used by Bottazzi make people gentler, happier, more positive and inspire courage.”
Barnebys magazine, November 2016.
“Guillaume Bottazzi’s works invite us to let go of our inhibitions and dare to dream […].”
Widewalls Magazine, May 2016
“The painting often reveals transparent objects, distilling light and shadow in a traditional way and then you notice that the angles of light projection are in fact irrational, that the light comes from every direction, vertically and horizontally, in scattered films. It is a creation that refuses to take physics into account.”
Scarcity Hong Kong, May 2016
How abstract art changes our vision of the world
Eric Kandel, Nobel-winning scientist’s lessons on why abstract art makes our brains hurt so good.
This is your brain on art: A neuroscientist’s lessons on why abstract art makes our brains hurt so good
It took a Nobel-winning scientist, Eric Kandel, who specializes in human memory to break new ground in art history
The greatest discoveries in art history, as in so many fields, tend to come from those working outside the box. Interdisciplinary studies break new ground because those steadfastly lashed to a specific field or way of thinking tend to dig deeper into well-trodden earth, whereas a fresh set of eyes, coming from a different school of thought, can look at old problems in new ways. Interviewing Eric Kandel, winner of the 2000 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine, and reading his latest book, “Reductionism in Art and Brain Science,” underscored this point. His new book offers one of the freshest insights into art history in many years. Ironic that it should come not from an art historian, but a neuroscientist specializing in human memory, most famous for his experiments involving giant sea snails. You can’t make this stuff up.
I’ve spent my life looking at art and analyzing it, and I’ve even brought a new discipline’s approach to art history. Because my academic work bridges art history and criminology (being a specialist in art crime), my own out-of-the-box contribution is treating artworks like crime scenes, whodunnits, and police procedurals. I examine Caravaggio’s “Saint Matthew Cycle” as if the three paintings in it are photographs of a crime scene, which we must analyze with as little a priori prejudice, and as much clean logic, as possible. Likewise, in my work deciphering one of most famous puzzle paintings, Bronzino’s “Allegory of Love and Lust,” a red herring (Vasari’s description of what centuries of scholars have assumed was this painting, but which Robert Gaston finally recognized was not at all, and had been an impossible handicap in trying to match the painting with Vasari’s clues about another work entirely) had to be cast aside in order for progress to be made.
Ernst Gombrich made waves when he dipped into optics in his book, “Art and Illusion.” Freud offered a new analysis of Leonardo. The Copiale cipher, an encoded, illuminated manuscript, was solved by Kevin Knight, a computer scientist and linguist. It takes an outsider to start a revolution. So it is not entirely surprising that a neuroscientist would open this art historian’s eyes, but my mind is officially blown. I feel like a veil has been pulled aside, and for that I am grateful.
Ask your average person walking down the street what sort of art they find more intimidating, or like less, or don’t know what to make of, and they’ll point to abstract or minimalist art. Show them traditional, formal, naturalistic art, like Bellini’s “Sacred Allegory,” art which draws from traditional core Western texts (the Bible, apocrypha, mythology) alongside a Mark Rothko or a Jackson Pollock or a Kazimir Malevich, and they’ll retreat into the Bellini, even though it is one of the most puzzling unsolved mysteries of the art world, a riddle of a picture for which not one reasonable solution has ever been put forward. The Pollock, on the other hand, is just a tangle of dripped paint, the Rothko just a color with a bar of another color on top of it, the Malevich is all white.
Kandel’s work explains this in a simple way. In abstract painting, elements are included not as visual reproductions of objects, but as references or clues to how we conceptualize objects. In describing the world they see, abstract artists not only dismantle many of the building blocks of bottom-up visual processing by eliminating perspective and holistic depiction, they also nullify some of the premises on which bottom-up processing is based. We scan an abstract painting for links between line segments, for recognizable contours and objects, but in the most fragmented works, such as those by Rothko, our efforts are thwarted.
Thus the reason abstract art poses such an enormous challenge to the beholder is that it teaches us to look at art — and, in a sense, at the world — in a new way. Abstract art dares our visual system to interpret an image that is fundamentally different from the kind of images our brain has evolved to reconstruct. Kandel describes the difference between “bottom up” and “top down” thinking. This is basic stuff for neuroscience students, but brand new for art historians. Bottom up thinking includes mental processes that are ingrained over centuries: unconsciously making sense of phenomena, like guessing that a light source coming from above us is the sun (since for thousands of years that was the primary light source, and this information is programmed into our very being) or that someone larger must be standing closer to us than someone much smaller, who is therefore in the distance. Top down thinking, on the other hand, is based on our personal experience and knowledge (not ingrained in us as humans with millennia of experiences that have programmed us). Top down thinking is needed to interpret formal, symbol or story-rich art. Abstraction taps bottom-up thinking, requiring little to no a priori knowledge. Kandel is not the first to make this point. Henri Matisse said, “We are closer to attaining cheerful serenity by simplifying thoughts and figures. Simplifying the idea to achieve an expression of joy. That is our only deed [as artists].” But it helps to have a renowned scientist, who is also a clear writer and passionate art lover, convert the ideas of one field into the understanding of another. The shock for me is that abstraction should really be less intimidating, as it requires no advanced degrees and no reading of hundreds of pages of source material to understand and enjoy. And yet the general public, at least, finds abstraction and minimalism intimidating, quick to dismiss it with “oh, I could do that” or “that’s not art.” We are simply used to formal art; we expect it, and also do not necessarily expect to “understand it” in an interpretive sense. Our reactions are aesthetic, evaluating just two of the three Aristotelian prerequisites for art to be great: it demonstrates skill and it may be beautiful, but we will often skip the question of whether it is interesting, as that question requires knowledge we might not possess.
We might think that “reading” formal paintings, particularly those packed with symbols or showing esoteric mythological scenes, are what require active problem-solving. At an advanced academic level, they certainly do (I racked my brain for years over that Bronzino painting). But at any less-scholarly level, for most museum-goers, this is not the case. Looking at formal art is actually a form of passive narrative reading, because the artist has given us everything our brain expects and knows automatically how to handle. It looks like real life.
But the mind-bending point that Kandel makes is that abstract art, which strips away the narrative, the real-life, expected visuals, requires active problem-solving. We instinctively search for patterns, recognizable shapes, formal figures within the abstraction. We want to impose a rational explanation onto the work, and abstract and minimalist art resists this. It makes our brains work in a different, harder, way at a subconscious level. Though we don’t articulate it as such, perhaps that is why people find abstract art more intimidating, and are hastier to dismiss it. It requires their brains to function in a different, less comfortable, more puzzled way. More puzzled even than when looking at a formal, puzzle painting.
Kandel told The Wall Street Journal that the connection between abstract art and neuroscience is about reductionism, a term in science for simplifying a problem as much as possible to make it easier to tackle and solve. This is why he studied giant sea snails to understand the human brain. Sea snails have just 20,000 neurons in their brains, whereas humans have billions. The simpler organism was easier to study and those results could be applied to humans.
“This is reductionism,” he said, “to take a complex problem and select a central, but limited, component that you can study in depth. Rothko — only color. And yet the power it conveys is fantastic. Jackson Pollock got rid of all form.”
In fact, some of the best abstract artists began in a more formal style, and peeled the form away. Turner, Mondrian and Brancusi, for instance, have early works in a quite realistic style. They gradually eroded the naturalism of their works, Mondrian for instance painting trees that look like trees early on, before abstracting his paintings into a tangle of branches, and then a tangle of lines and then just a few lines that, to him, still evoke tree-ness. It’s like boiling away apple juice, getting rid of the excess water, to end up with an apple concentrate, the ultimate essence of apple-ness. We like to think of abstraction as a 20th century phenomenon, a reaction to the invention of photography. Painting and sculpture no longer had to fulfill the role of record of events, likenesses and people — photography could do that. So painting and sculpture was suddenly free to do other things, things photography couldn’t do as well. Things like abstraction. But that’s not the whole story. A look at ancient art finds it full of abstraction. Most art history books, if they go back far enough, begin with Cycladic figurines (dated to 3300-1100 BC). Abstracted, ghost-like, sort-of-human forms. Even on cave walls, a few lines suggest an animal, or a constellation of blown hand-prints float on a wall in absolute darkness.
Abstract art is where we began, and where we have returned. It makes our brains hurt, but in all the right ways, for abstract art forces us to see, and think, differently.
An objective evaluation of the beholder’s response to abstract and figurative art based on construal level theory
Art affects our mindset; it can be therapeutic, emotionally evocative, and generative of aesthetic experience. But how art recruits cognitive processes, and how this process differs between abstract and representational art, remain unknown. To quantify differences in mindset evoked by abstract and representational art, we drew on construal level theory (CLT), a psychological theory that has systematically characterized differences in abstract and concrete mindsets. In three different decision making tasks, we found that abstract art evokes a more abstract mindset than representational art. Our data suggest that abstract and representational art have differential effects on cognition and that CLT provides a useful new empirical approach to the analysis of cognitive states evoked by different levels of artistic abstraction.
Does abstract art evoke a different cognitive state than figurative art? To address this question empirically, we bridged art theory and cognitive research and designed an experiment leveraging construal level theory (CLT). CLT is based on experimental data showing that psychologically distant events (i.e., occurring farther away in space or time) are represented more abstractly than closer events. We measured construal level elicited by abstract vs. representational art and asked subjects to assign abstract/representational paintings by the same artist to a situation that was temporally/spatially near or distant. Across three experiments, we found that abstract paintings were assigned to the distant situation significantly more often than representational paintings, indicating that abstract art was evocative of greater psychological distance. Our data demonstrate that different levels of artistic abstraction evoke different levels of mental abstraction and suggest that CLT provides an empirical approach to the analysis of cognitive states evoked by different levels of artistic abstraction.
- 1To whom correspondence may be addressed. Email: or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Author contributions: C.D., D.S., and E.R.K. designed research; C.D. and E.H. performed research; C.D. analyzed data; and C.D., E.H., D.S., and E.R.K. wrote the paper.
Reviewers: A.W.K., University of Maryland; and Y.T., New York University.
The authors declare no competing interest.
This article contains supporting information online at https://www.pnas.org/lookup/suppl/doi:10.1073/pnas.2001772117/-/DCSupplemental.
Published under the PNAS license.
Video installation, New York ©
CURVED ART IN THE REAL WORLD: A PSYCHOLOGICAL LOOK AT THE ART OF GUILLAUME BOTTAZZI
Helmut Leder and Marcos Nadal – University of Vienna – Faculty of Psychology Department of Basic Research and Research Methods
Curved art in the real world: a psychological look at the art of Guillaume Bottazzi
Before you continue reading this, please take a look at the space around you.
You are most likely indoors. How did we guess this? Well, today most people spend close to 90% of their life inside buildings. Moreover, it is also likely that most of the objects that surround you, and the elements that constitute the room you are in, are human-made, designed by a human creator. Have you ever thought about how these surroundings affect the ways you feel, think, and behave?
The artist Guillaume Bottazzi has devoted much of his work to actively designing aspects of the environment. He has achieved this not only by producing objects—such as artworks or three dimensional artworks—that can become part of the environment, but also by interventions that change the visual appearance of large-scale environments themselves. Such interventions influence our perception and evaluation of those surroundings—and much more! For example, how we feel.
This is how Guillaume Bottazzi’s art looks through the lens of psychology. But why approach his art—or any art for that matter—from a psychological perspective? Psychology is the science of mind and behavior. As such, it seeks to understand what makes us who we are as individuals and communities, what moves us and what stops us, what drives us to achieve, what makes us want and feel, and where our joys and miseries come from. An important part of who we are, and of how we feel, has to do with our interactions with our environment; specifically with the way we shape and experience our immediate surroundings.
Today, psychology is mostly practiced as an empirical science; it is based on data that were collected in experiments aiming to test and prove psychological theories. In our daily business as researchers in Psychology, therefore, we often conduct laboratory and field experiments, systematic observations, and collect data that either support or contradict the hypotheses that guide our studies. More than 150 years of inquiry have revealed many things about how the human mind and brain work. If art has anything to do with human emotion and reason, or with how humans view themselves and their world—and we are convinced that it does—then Psychology can contribute to understanding the way art in general, and Bottazzi’s art in particular, is experienced.
When psychology was founded as an academic discipline in the late 19th century, most research was concerned with sensory perception. In the tradition of Herman Helmhotz, and other great physiologists of that time, psychologists aimed to measure the intimate side of simple acts of perception: How does light arriving through the eyes get translated into a sensory experience? How does this feel? Is this subjective experience lawfully related to the amount and intensity of light? Pursuing this sorts of questions produced a greatly successful line of research. It revealed many of the feats and tricks the human mind uses to understand the world, but also many of its biases, constraints, and limitations that help it deal with the vast array of information and events taking place around us. Some of these feats and constraints combine to endow humans with a certain memory span, a limited focus of attention, or the perception of color constancy and visual grouping, among many other possible examples. However, a different tradition has aimed to understand much more complex perceptual experiences, such as apprehending images, artworks, or even the full complex scene of our environment as it appears to us. This approach was already called for by the founders of this “new science” of Psychology in the 19th century, but for many reasons its development was much slower. And, although a science of perception of art is now established in Psychology , the perception and appreciation of our environment has only recently gained a relevant place in Psychology.
What do we know about the perception of our environment? We know that people can identify images as depicting a seaside landscape, a forest scene, or a human-made environment with only a glimpse, even when these images are presented for as briefly as a 1/10th of a second . Regarding preferences for certain environments, we know that people like nature as seen from a safe and hidden vantage point, with some views and possibilities for further exploration , and that people consistently like images that show landscape scenes more than urban scenes .
This latter finding is particularly striking, because we spend a vast amount of our time in human-made environments. If you think of your daily routines, and those of the people you know, it is easy to see how only rarely do people in western countries encounter untouched nature. Why have so few studies been conducted to understand how environments designed and created by humans influence our lives and our feelings? This is one of the mysteries of our research field. It is difficult to understand, because even common sense suggests that the design and creation of living environments might benefit from knowledge about the way that people perceive and evaluate the different alternatives of how environments look.
One thing is very clear, though: people respond to the aspects of objects and places, and among these are basic visual features. Psychologists, and philosophers before them, have long searched for basic visual elements that guide our preferences, and affect our feelings and well-being.
So, are there any general laws that can predict what most people will like? One consistent finding is that curvature influences aesthetic responses. People prefer curved objects to sharp ones . This has been shown for car design, where curved design is often liked more , while apparently taste and fashion also affect such preferences. More systematically, it was demonstrated that when people were shown images of object such as watches, sofas, toys, and so on, on a computer screen for very brief times, then the curved-contour versions of the objects were liked much more . In a follow-up study, these researchers also found evidence that the preference for curved contours is related to lower activity in brain regions that can be associated with fear . So, curved contours could be preferred because they seem less harmful, or plain and simply because they are inherently attractive . The idea that curvature is an aesthetic primitive confirms philosophers’ claims since the 18th century. Burke, for instance, believed that beauty is smooth, without edges or sharp angles. In this respect, Guillaume Bottazzi’s work exemplifies the use of these basic features, which elicit pleasure automatically, probably unconsciously, and are attractive to the eye. Like many artists, he intuitively applies these principles and produces visual doses of sensory pleasure.
This picture of Bottazzi’s exhibition in Miyanomori International Museum of Art in 2011 also show a distinct contrast between the shapes in the art and major architectural elements, such as the frames, the ceiling, the different non-curved sharp angles. The presence of straight elements is not unusual—you may check again your current surroundings.
So the question arises whether architecture might be an exception of our preference for curvature. To find this out, together with a large network of colleagues from psychology, neuroscience and architecture, we conducted a study in which we asked participants to look at carefully selected images of modern interior architecture spaces. They were asked to evaluate each interior space, and while they did so we recorded their brain activity by means of functional magnetic resonance imaging. We examined “how systematic variation in contour impacts aesthetic judgments and approach-avoidance decisions, outcome measures of interest to both architects and users of spaces alike.” (p. 10446).
The people who took part in our experiment found the interior spaces with curved contours much more beautiful than those composed mostly of straight lines and corners, as in the other aforementioned aesthetic domains. The brain imaging results showed that viewing the curved contour rooms was associated with an increase in activity in the anterior cingulate cortex, a brain region known to respond to the emotional importance of objects and to their rewarding aspects. We were also able to show that participants’ beauty assessment and their concurrent brain activity were driven mainly by pleasantness. From these results we concluded that “the well-established effect of contour on aesthetic preference can be extended to architecture. Furthermore, the combination of our behavioral and neural evidence underscores the role of emotion in our preference for curvilinear objects in this domain.” (p. 10446)
Thus, even in architecture curvature elicits pleasant feelings, which lead to a stronger appreciation of beauty in architectural designs that contain such curved visual features. This is a crucial finding for two reasons. First, it was believed that such preference was primarily related to objects that could be handled and grasped. We now know it also applies to the spaces that envelope us. Second, most of the architectural spaces we inhabit are not curved. However, Art has the potential to bring this feature in. This is what Bottazzi’s work does. The examples in Figure 2 show how very straight shapes, cube-like buildings, are camouflaged by the wall paintings of Bottazzi—not only do they bathe the façades with color, they also resolve the shape towards a more pleasing, aesthetically preferred curvature and roundness.
In this respect, Bottazzi’s interventions are part of a long tradition of using wall paintings to create illusions that do not correspond to an underlying physical structure—as seen, for instance, in baroque architecture or the Spanish art-deco movements, most known through the works of Gaudi. However, the design of human-made environment could benefit from knowledge and research and insight about the factors that affect people in their living environment.
Thus, the perception of art and architecture from a psychological perspective reveals that both produce fascinating objects that bring pleasure through beauty and aesthetic qualities into our everyday life and surroundings. If our thoughts are correct, then you should also be able to receive small doses of pleasure by looking at pictures of—and surrounding yourself by—Guillaume Bottazzi’s art.
Guillaume Bottazzi and the joy of inhabiting
Guillaume Bottazzi – November 15th 2020
The in situ works of Guillaume Bottazzi reveal new environmental paradigms
Why having dreamlike spaces in our everyday spaces?
The in situ works of Guillaume Bottazzi modify our environment and cause new architectural paradigms to emerge.
For Gaston Bachelard, imagination constitutes the foundation of reason and perception: this is the reason why imagination takes precedence in the creation of the spaces we occupy, since – above all – we inhabit dreamlike spaces. Our imagination conditions our perceptions and our thoughts.
These poetic spaces are not places that exist in themselves. They are not an envelope in which we come to be buried and nor an objective container of elements. These poetic spaces nourish our creativity and stimulate our construction.
These in situ works create dynamic spaces, spaces inhabited by the living, always connected with the outside and the inside. These creations create spaces that transcend lines and utilitarian space.
It is the concrete and matter that will reveal our dreams and the spirit of places. It is they that will stimulate a personal imagination; and in order to be able to dream, we must not rationalise.
For example, if we look at the building plans for a construction, we do not dream, but if we reinvent what we are looking at, we appropriate the site. To do this, we need to seek out anything unexpected in it so as to be able to inscribe the spaces we frequent into the register of our imagination.
Every landscape is an experience that connects with our imagination, and this imagination is not a passive daydream but takes shape in action, in the way a child walking along a line on his way to school pretends he is tiptoeing on the edge of a high precipice.
The spaces frequented nourish the passer-by with a form of unreality and make him dream.
Creating evolving spaces
The three-dimensionality of static spaces is an illusion.
New physics and quantum physics induce the idea that all space is evolutionary.
New physics calls into question the three-dimensionality of static spaces; this is the case of the “theory of relativity” whereby static space does not exist, but it is also the case of quantum physics for which things are no longer locatable.
New physics has revealed a new dynamic of space, where dream space is the construction of a dynamic space bringing the joy of inhabiting a given place.
It is a space that is constantly changing, an open space that is never closed, a space that evolves and surprises.
Official website of Guillaume Bottazzi, visual artist.
Presentation of works of art, exhibitions, news, environmental art. Guillaume Bottazzi has signed more than 100 artworks for public spaces.
The images are the property of the artist. Those who wish to copy images can contact: ADAGP Paris - © Guillaume Bottazzi