Art About Von Economo Neurons

This is a painting I created with the oversight of neuroscientist and opera singer, Indre Viskontas. This painting is part of my ongoing Patreon project and was originally posted there.

This piece of art is meant to highlight the largest and most recently evolved neurons in the brain called, Von Economo or VEN for short. VENs have only been found to exist in a few highly social animals such as humans, great apes, whales and most recently they have been spotted in macaque monkeys. These cells are only found in a few regions of the brain, primarily in the anterior cingulate cortex and the frontal insula and usually exist in clusters of 3 to six cells in an area. That is why I painted five of VENs in the foreground of this piece. These cells, because of their extremely long length, have the ability to transfer information very quickly to other cells and other parts of the body. These cells have been associated with making intuitive or “snap” decisions often needed in a social contexts. VENs have also been connected to cognitive dissonance and allowing our brains to overcome that feeling when needed for survival.

One of the things Indre suggested was that I show not only VEN cells but also find a way to artistically demonstrate the fact that neurons are not floating alone in space, as they are often represented in illustrations, but to show that they exist within a vast network of highly organized brain cells.

I took some artistic liberties with this painting to make it slightly abstracted and what I considered to be aesthetically pleasing. For example, the inside of your brain is not purple and yellow- it’s more gray and white. But even while utilizing the freedom of artistic creativity, I still did try to highlight certain specific scientific facts and features.

1. That VENs are the largest of the neurons and that they are very long.
2. That VENs transfer information to other types of neurons that exist within complex, woven highways of white matter.
3. I used a color palette that would lean towards gray and white to represent the gray matter and white matter of the brain.

Below is an image of the painting. It is 3 feet by 4 feet and acrylic on canvas.

neuron painting by Amy

I hope you enjoy this painting and that it allows you a moment of peace to contemplate the inner workings of your mind and to marvel in how the brain has evolved over generations and species. I also hope it inspires you to learn more on the topic of neuroscience and brain activity.

You can buy a signed print here.

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Amy Roth

Amy Roth

Amy Davis Roth (aka Surly Amy) is a multimedia artist who resides in Los Angeles, California. She makes Surly-Ramics and is the founder and president of the Los Angeles Women's Atheist and Agnostic Group: LAWAAG. She is also the fearless leader of Mad Art Lab and cohost of Mad Art Cast. Support her on Patreon. Follow her on twitter: @SurlyAmy or on Google+.

1 Comment

  1. August 10, 2015 at 4:34 pm

    I love how it feels as if the viewer is just passing through a neuron bundle. Just those few stragglers left in the foreground, before continuing further in… Like the parting of vines in a jungle.

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