An eye-tracking and questionnaire study was set up in collaboration with the Van Abbemuseum (Eindhoven, The Netherlands) to investigate the perception and appreciation of three Frank Stella paintings from the 60s (Tuxedo Park Junction and Effingham I from the collection of the museum and a hand-painted replica of Hiraqla Variation II). Effingham and Hiraqla were shown next to a printed copy without fluorescent colors, for a direct comparison between the two versions. The main purpose of the study was to assess whether the works were experienced according to Stella’s prescriptions as defined in his Modernist ‘logic’: all-overness, flatness, instantaneousness and self-referentiality. We found that the perception of Tuxedo resulted in a well-structured, coherent heatmap, while a more or less even distribution of fixations over the surface was found in the case of Effingham and Hiraqla (and their copies), which indicates that Stella’s target of all-overness was achieved better in the last two works. Although Stella claimed to have created “flat and frontal” paintings, depth was experienced, especially in Tuxedo and the Hiraqla replica. In the latter, this was mainly caused by the protruding fluorescent colors. Also, in this work more fixations were found in fluorescent-colored areas when corrected for area size. No such effect was found in the original Effingham painting. Most participants found only Effingham to be instantaneously capturable. In the case of Tuxedo, the specific material qualities, like alkyd and open canvas, were rarely recognized, which undermines Stella’s aim for self-referentiality. Participants noticed the fluorescent effect in the Hiraqla replica, but they did not mention other material qualities. A reverse effect was found for Effingham.
Perceptual organisation is hypothesised as a key in the perception and appreciation of abstract art. Here, we investigated how relational and compositional features affected the perception and aesthetic appreciation of Black Square and Red Square by Kazimir Malevich (1915). We studied how (i) the presence and obliquity of the red square and (ii) the relative configuration of the black and red square affected the detectability of the obliquity of the black square in this artwork. Results showed that the simultaneous presence and obliquity of the red square masked the obliquity of the original black square. The likelihood of the black square being incorrectly perceived as an exact square was always maximum in the original configuration and even slight alterations in the original configuration of the work resulted in the obliquity of the black square to be noticed. The original artwork was more aesthetically preferred compared to its alternatives. We argue that the artist may have intentionally set the configuration to mask the obliquity of the black square and maximise the aesthetic preference.
Although Frank Stella intended to create flat, illusion-less Irregular Polygons paintings, it is not uncommon to experience the illusion of colour depth, based on the interaction between their fluorescent and conventional colours. Some critics praised these artworks’ flatness, while others described odd depth experiences that they categorised as a new kind of illusion. In order to provide a correct reading of these works and to reassess their art historical significance, a scientific case study regarding this colour-depth effect imposes itself. This article discusses an experiment in which we determined whether twenty artists, twenty art historians and twenty laypeople experienced fluorescent colours as protruding, receding or flat in combination with conventional colours. We additionally looked at whether they still perceived colour depth when all fluorescent colours were replaced with their conventional variants. All participants observed fifteen designs, which they had to rate according to the perceived depth of each coloured region with a number between −3 (strongly receding) and +3 (strongly protruding). The results revealed that most participants experience fluorescent regions as strongly protruding, unlike all conventional colours, which were rated as much less protruding. When a fluorescent colour was swapped with a conventional variant, all participants experienced significantly less depth. The differences between the subject groups were statistically negligible when looking at the mean depth ratings for both colour types. However, we discovered that artists experienced more contrast effects, as they gave different ratings to different panels (of identical colour and shape) in the same design, depending on their position.
Many pictures are approximately piecewise uniform quilts. The patches meet in transitional areas that have a vague, ribbon-like geometry. These borders may occasionally get lost and sometimes pick up again, creating a ‘passage’ that partly blends adjacent patches. This type of structure is widely discussed in treatises on painting technique. Similar effects (lost outlines, passages) occur in drawing. The border regions are characterized by width, or sharpness and amplitude – which is the contrast between the patches on each side. Moreover, border regions have various textural structures. We propose a formal theory of such transitions. Images can be understood as superpositions of border areas. Stylistic changes can be implemented through the selective treatment of borders. The theory is formally similar to, though crucially different in meaning from, the theory of ‘edges’ (a technical term) in image processing. We propose it as a formal framework that enables principled discussion of ‘edge qualities’ (a term used by painters in a way unrelated to the use of ‘edge’ in image processing) in a well-structured manner.
Artistic photography is an interesting, but often overlooked, medium within the field of empirical aesthetics. Grounded in an art–science collaboration with art photographer Dominique Genin, this project focused on the relationship between the complexity of a photograph and its aesthetic appeal (beauty, pleasantness, interest). An artistic series of 24 semi-abstract photographs that play with multiple layers, recognisability vs unrecognizability and complexity was specifically created and selected for the project. A large-scale online study with a broad range of individuals (n = 453, varying in age, gender and art expertise) was set up. Exploratory data-driven analyses revealed two clusters of individuals, who responded differently to the photographs. Despite the semi-abstract nature of the photographs, differences seemed to be driven more consistently by the ‘content’ of the photograph than by its complexity levels. No consistent differences were found between clusters in age, gender or art expertise. Together, these results highlight the importance of exploratory, data-driven work in empirical aesthetics to complement and nuance findings from hypotheses-driven studies, as they allow to go further than a priori assumptions, to explore underlying clusters of participants with different response patterns, and to point towards new venues for future research. Data and code for the analyses reported in this article can be found at https://osf.io/2fws6/.
In his search to create ‘instantaneously capturable’ paintings, Frank Stella started to use Day-Glo alkyd paints as a vehicle to communicate his simple, striped designs. Up till now, art criticism has neglected the visual impact of these fluorescent colours on this concept of ‘instantaneous art’. By presenting participants with Stella’s designs (fluorescent and conventional variants) for short presentation times (8 to 12 ms), we aimed to find out whether fluorescent colour combinations are seen faster (i.e., yield better performance in identifying the specific design) than their conventional counterparts. In general, participants were very good in identifying the correct design among distractors, which means that the pattern and colour combinations based on Stella’s work do seem to be ‘instantaneously capturable’. However, Stella’s formula for ‘instantaneous’ paintings is not identical for the different combinations. When exploring fluorescence in combination with other aspects of the design (colour and pattern), we found two effects that seemed to predict performance. First, performance seemed to depend on specific design patterns. Second, fluorescence seemed to interact with specific colour combinations in predicting performance. The red/yellow designs yielded better performance for the fluorescent variants, while the opposite was found for the green/orange designs. Contrast differences in luminance between the two colours of each colour combination might explain part of the results. On the other hand, the effect of fluorescent colours might have been watered down by the confusion between the hand-printed fluorescent colours and the computer display used for the identification task, which only showed conventional colours.