top of page

How the arts can change your life - decoding minds, emotions & desires

On Sunday 28 November 2.30-4.30pm an art and fiction discussion took place to celebrate the launch of The Rise of the Australian Neurohumanities (Routledge) by Jean-François Vernay.

Most people in attendance were a select audience of published creative writers (like novelist Sallie Muirden, whose latest novel Wedding Puzzle was published in 2019) communications specialists, health care industry practitioners (psychologists, physicians, etc.) teachers, scientists, notable visual artists like Titane Laurent as well as arts workers, researchers (Australian Catholic University) and academics specialised in cognitive literary studies like Julia Prendergast (Swinburne University). Some people who attended had no connection with the speakers but had seen the event promoted on Eventbrite and came along on a glorious sunny Sunday because they had an interest in science and the arts.

It was interesting that the questions from the audience focused on art, literature and what might be considered 'negative emotion'. Does disgust (physical or moral or both) count as a form of ‘empathy’?

A lot of positive feedback came through, sometimes by emails to enthusiastically express their satisfaction:

"I really enjoyed the book launch yesterday … One of the speakers made the point that reading is just about the most intellectually demanding activity there is. He [Mark Williams] said that you cannot read and do anything else at the same time. We can talk and walk, we can cook and talk but we cannot read and talk."

Evelyn Tsitas's recounting of the story of Karen Casey's Transplanted was riveting, and made the listeners want to visit the RMIT Gallery at the earliest opportunity. Jean-François Vernay suggested how reading certain kinds of texts could actually lead to changes in the reader's behavior, a phenomenon called narrative persuasion (which is less evident to demonstrate than narrative impact). As to the MC, Christopher Ringrose was fascinated by parallel accounts -- by novelist and painter Antoni Jach and cognitive neuroscientist Mark Williams — detailing the sources of creativity and how to maximise its potential. These thought-provoking discussions encouraged fellow writers to stand back from their own creative practice and reflect on it.

Evelyn Tsitas compared the narrative journey of an artwork exploring anguish to the set up, investigation and resolution in a crime narrative - with a similar cathartic result for the viewer. There was also much amusement when moderator Christopher Ringrose asked Jean-François Vernay to speak about literature, and more specifically desire!

Panelists were delighted to be part of a cross-disciplinary event that provided the audience with a stimulating but accessible discussion. Like them, Dr. Evelyn Tsitas felt that she learned something knew about the creative brain in action, and was fascinated to hear how each speaker engaged with their work.

This successful and relaxed event collegially shined the spotlight on the diverse speakers and brought audiences into Melbourne's cultural space again after the city's protracted lockdowns. As the cultural community has been so hard hit by COVID, it was truly a joy to be able to come together today and celebrate the importance of ideas and research again.

Jean-François Vernay launched The Rise of the Australian Neurohumanities (Routledge, 2021) by discussing some of the contributions such as Sue Woolfe’s chapter on neurocreativity and acknowledged the value of publishing neurocognitive essays on creativity by writers who have an insider-outsider (i.e. fiction writer/academic) outlook on creative writing. He also discussed some of the chapters of Neurocognitive Interpretations of Australian Literature (Routledge, 2021) which chimed with his edited volume.

Everyone spoke so well and the event was superbly organised by Evelyn Tsitas and it was skilfully moderated by Christopher Ringrose. The panelists wish to express their heartfelt thanks to the James Makin Gallery for hosting this enjoyable and memorable event and to AFRAN for generously sponsoring it.


bottom of page