The Wall Street Journal reports on some scientific research—well, really the collation and collection of other research—that reveals our brain activity when viewing paintings:
The study found that paintings activated areas of the brain involved in vision, pleasure, memory, recognition and emotions, in addition to systems that underlie the conscious processing of new information to give it meaning. […]
Viewing paintings activated regions of the visual cortex, which processes visual information. This activity may be attributed to processing shapes and colors, the researchers said. The fusiform gyrus and parahippocampal gyrus, brain regions associated with the perception and recognition of objects and places, were highlighted, possibly by familiar faces and landscapes, the study suggests.
The anterior temporal lobe, which conceptualizes information about objects and how they function, was also involved, indicating viewing paintings may trigger higher-order mental processing, researchers said.
Also activated were the posterior cingulate cortex and anterior insula, areas associated with inner thoughts and emotional experiences, and the putamen, which regulates movements and influences learning. This could signal experienced or anticipated pleasure from viewing paintings.
Our Brains Are Made for Enjoying Art (WSJ)