Reason for Art

Asking a scientist a reason for art is tricky because my brain is trying to give you analytical and my heart is saying, ‘No, don’t cut it open.
— Madhu

Some things in life aren’t meant to be explained, nor do they need to have a reason.  Some things are just meant to be felt with the heart. While there is scientific explanation for the aesthetics of color on the brain; how colors, shapes, and patterns can make your mind feel a certain way, neuroscientist/artist, Madhuchhanda Mandal (or, Madhu, for short) paints simply for the joy it brings and in hopes it will invoke a feeling of happiness to its viewer.       

“We feel happy when the magnolias bloom in Spring. It has positive effects on the mind.  That's what keeps me going and inspired,” she further explains.  Madhu draws her inspiration from nature, picking up those colors and then aggregating those colors into a unified work of art.  

Madhu considers herself an Expressionist artist, combining colors that are striking and eye-catching - colors that make you stop and take a second look.

“Across my street there’s a little pond where I like to watch the sun set.  It’s my favorite time of day.  In Indiana you get to see very beautiful sunsets with pinks, purples, oranges, yellows, and reds.  While you don’t necessarily see all those colors at once, I like to represent those colors in my paintings.”

Madhu grew up painting on the eastern shores of India in the beautiful and bustling city of Calcutta (now, Kolkata) where she spent most of her childhood.  “Because a big part of my life was spent there, it’s shaped who I am today,” says Madhu.  Some of her pieces express those influences, as you’ll see here:

Madhu came to the States for her higher education and chose her course of study in neuroscience.  Not what you’d expect from someone who grew up attracted to art, but, as she explains, “I think I’m a nerdy person and I just felt connected to that discipline.”  Her studies went well and she graduated from doctoral studies from the University of Buffalo in New York, which happened to be the same school as her husband.  They both went to work towards their post-doctoral in Baltimore at Johns Hopkins University.  Then her son was born and she decided to give herself a break from rigorous scientific research to stay home with her newborn baby.  

“Scientific research is very demanding and because my son was born premature, I felt he needed me more.”

Two years later, in 2013, her husband picked up a new job that moved them to Indianapolis.  It was then that Madhu decided to go back to research, but instead shifted her career into less demanding work as a behavioral health care specialist so as to have more time for her art.  

It’s no wonder why a neuroscientist would be drawn to Expressionism, a movement which presents the world solely from a subjective perspective, distorting it radically for emotional effect in order to evoke moods or ideas.  For example, Madhu refers to The Scream by artist Edvard Munch, “The sky is on fire with orange and bright colors with a river flowing by.  A person stands there, blocking the sound of bombs…screaming for help.  No one can stand in front of that painting and feel happy.  It represents agony.” 

Vincent van Gogh is another artist from whom she draws inspiration.  In fact, the name of her studio, Amber Grains Art, comes from Van Gogh’s Wheat Fields series he painted shortly before entering the asylum in 1889.  “Can you imagine,” says Madhu in thinking about Van Gogh’s famous Starry Night for example, “a guy who is so depressed, can bring out such beautiful, accentuated colors.  The sky is so blue, the wheat fields so yellow, and the stars are so bright.”

  The Scream.  Painting by Edvard Munch, 1893

The Scream. Painting by Edvard Munch, 1893

  Starry Night . Painting by Vincent van Gogh, 1889.

Starry Night. Painting by Vincent van Gogh, 1889.

  The Fields . Painting by Vincent van Gogh, 1890.

The Fields. Painting by Vincent van Gogh, 1890.

Art is food for my soul. It’s something I can’t live without. It’s in my mind. When I see something, like scenery or a person and their movement, for example, it comes out as something I want to represent on my canvas and immortalize. Art keeps me going. It makes me happy to be able to create. It helps me realize what’s important in life and to look past pettinesses, small things, and evil…to see the best in people. Art is my meditation. My studio is my heaven.
— Madhu