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Throughout the 20th century, there have been many different forms of abstract painting. While works by some artists, e.g., Piet Mondrian, are usually described as static, others are described as dynamic, such as Jackson Pollock’s ‘action paintings’. Art historians have assumed that beholders not only conceptualise such differences in depicted dynamics but also mirror these in their viewing behaviour. In an interdisciplinary eye-tracking study, we tested this concept through investigating both the localisation of fixations (polyfocal viewing) and the average duration of fixations as well as saccade velocity, duration and path curvature. We showed 30 different abstract paintings to 40 participants — 20 laypeople and 20 experts (art students) — and used self-reporting to investigate the perceived dynamism of each painting and its relationship with (a) the average number and duration of fixations, (b) the average number, duration and velocity of saccades as well as the amplitude and curvature area of saccade paths, and (c) pleasantness and familiarity ratings. We found that the average number of fixations and saccades, saccade velocity, and pleasantness ratings increase with an increase in perceived dynamism ratings. Meanwhile the saccade duration decreased with an increase in perceived dynamism. Additionally, the analysis showed that experts gave higher dynamic ratings compared to laypeople and were more familiar with the artworks. These results indicate that there is a correlation between perceived dynamism in abstract painting and viewing behaviour — something that has long been assumed by art historians but had never been empirically supported.

In: Art & Perception

Some neuroaestheticians have adopted a strongly reductionistic view of the arts and sought to supplant scholarship about the arts with an understanding of their evolutionary and neuropsychological underpinnings. I use the work of several neuroaestheticians to provide examples of four problematic tendencies that beset this approach: (1) assume that a domain-general system encodes the affective value of works of art; (2) oversimplify or disregard art history and scholarship about the arts; (3) apply laboratory findings to explain unique works of art, and (4) use widespread preferences to account for works of art. I then diagnose the ailment underlying these tendencies: the denial of autonomous standing to the production and interpretation of the arts, and suggest remedies. I end with an example of research that shows how neuroscientific research can successfully addresses an important and long-standing aesthetic question.

In: Art & Perception
When and How Psychology Explains Images
Cognitive Iconology is a new theory of the relation of psychology to art. Instead of being an application of psychological principles, it is a methodologically aware account of psychology, art and the nature of explanation. Rather than fight over biology or culture, it shows how they must fit together. The term “cognitive iconology” is meant to mirror other disciplines like cognitive poetics and musicology but the fear that images must be somehow transparent to understanding is calmed by the stratified approach to explanation that is outlined. In the book, cognitive iconology is a theory of cognitive tendencies that contribute to but are not determinative of an artistic meaning. At the center of the book are three case studies: images depicted within images, basic corrections to architectural renderings in images, and murals and paintings seen from the side. In all cases, there is a primitive perceptual pull that contribute to but do not override larger cultural meaning. The book then moves beyond the confines of the image to behavior around the image, and then ends with the concluding question of why some images are harder to understand than others. Cognitive Iconology promises to be important because it moves beyond the turf battles typically fought in image studies. It argues for a sustainable practice of interpretation that can live with other disciplines.
Corporeality: Emergent consciousness within its spatial dimensions develops our understanding of what we can experience through our bodies in relation to the space around us. Rather than considering architecture as being about manifestation and mediation of fixed meanings, the book focuses instead on architectural space as a field that envelopes us incessantly, intimately, and affectively. We are in immediate contact with that space, and the way we relate to it determines how we are able to grasp the realities of the social and material worlds around us.
This enquiry considers architectural space and its impact on and relation to us from a range of disciplines and perspectives, leading from space to sense and to sensibility. The theatre becomes a central point of reference on this journey, allowing us to understand how space “works” by linking concrete spatial conditions to corresponding “forms of experience”. It allows showing how the ways we feel, think, and act emerge from within the rich texture of the pre-conscious and non-contemplative. That texture is induced and nourished by our bodily encounters with space. Offering a view of how immediate experience is generated in the body, this book enhances empirical research into the links between space, body, experience and consciousness.
This book proposes a new approach to the problem of aesthetic experience in Western culture. Noting how art world phenomena evoke conventional psychoanalytic speculations about narcissism, the authors turn the tables and “apply” aesthetic questions and concerns to psychoanalytic theory. Experimenting with Freudian and post-Freudian concepts, they propose a non-normative theory of the psychic drive to address and embrace deep tensions in the post-Renaissance aesthetic project, the rise of modernism, and the contemporary art world. It is argued that these tensions reflect central conflicts in the development of patriarchal civilization, which the emergence of the aesthetic domain, as a specialized range of practice, exposes and subverts. The postmodern era of aesthetic reflection is interpreted as the outcome of a complex narcissistic dialectic of idealization and de-idealization that is significant for the understanding of contemporary culture and its historical prospects.
In: Zones of Re-membering
In: Zones of Re-membering
In: Zones of Re-membering
In: Zones of Re-membering
In: Zones of Re-membering