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Claudia Muth and Claus-Christian Carbon

Many artworks defy determinacy of meaning by inducing a variety of potential meanings. We aim to describe different kinds of such semantic instability (which we call ‘SeIns’) by comparing related concepts as well as specific phenomena in order to arrive at concise definitions. These analyses will be positioned in the framework of Predictive Coding. Furthermore, this article fathoms the specifics of semantic instability in art and presents a psycho-aesthetic account on the appeal of semantic instability in art. We propose that one factor for the appeal of semantic instability might be that it offers the opportunity of rewarding insight. Furthermore, we suggest that positive affect can be gained not only by arriving at an insight but also by anticipating it — a crucial point with regard to those kinds of semantic instability that are not ‘resolvable’ into semantic stability. Current challenges within this field of research include the necessity of an empirical approach to classes of semantic instability, the lack of a specification of psycho-aesthetic theories on the appeal of each class, as well as the need for an integration of context- and person-related facets of the experience of art.

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Claudia Muth, Marius Hans Raab and Claus-Christian Carbon

The perception of artworks rarely—if ever—results in the instantiation of a determinate meaning. Instead, when entering an art gallery, we often expect Semantic Instability (SeIns): the experience of perceptual and cognitive habits being challenged. By comparing the experience of an artistic movie in an exhibition with the experience in a laboratory via the Continuous Evaluation Procedure, we found that the movie was less semantically unstable and more pleasing to the eyes of gallery visitors than to those of participants in the laboratory. These findings suggest that a gallery context might induce the expectation of perceptual challenge, thus decreasing the intensity of SeIns and at the same time heightening the appreciation of SeIns. Exhibition visitors might even be on the lookout for challenging experiences.