Artworks as dichotomous objects, by Robert Pepperell

Artworks as dichotomous objects: implications for the scientific study of aesthetic experience

Pepperell R (2015) Artworks as dichotomous objects: implications for the scientific study of aesthetic experienceFront. Hum. Neurosci9:295. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2015.00295

Abstract:

This paper addresses an issue that has been studied from both scientific and art theoretical perspectives, namely the dichotomous nature of representational artworks. Representational artworks are dichotomous in that they present us with two distinct aspects at once. In one aspect we are aware of what is represented while in the other we are aware of the material from which the representation is composed. The dichotomy arises due the incompatibility, indeed contradiction, between these aspects of awareness, both of which must be present if we are to fully appreciate the artwork. Examples from art history are given to show how artists have exploited this dichotomy in a way that conditions our response to their work. I hypothesize that the degree of manifest dichotomy in a work determines the strength of its aesthetic effect, and propose this could be experimentally tested. I conclude that scientific studies of aesthetic experience should take the dichotomous nature of artworks into account.

Read the whole paper!

The quartet theory of human emotions – Koelsch et al. 2015

Check out this new paper on the neural foundations of human emotions (it comes with many great commentaries):

Koelsch, S., Jacobs, A. M.,  Menninghaus, W.,  Liebal, K.,  Klann-Delius, G.,  von Scheve, C.,  Gebauer, G. (2015) The quartet theory of human emotions: An integrative and neurofunctional modelPhysics of Life Reviews, 13, 1-27.

Abstract

Despite an explosion of research in the affective sciences during the last few decades, interdisciplinary theories of human emotions are lacking. Here we present a neurobiological theory of emotions that includes emotions which are uniquely human (such as complex moral emotions), considers the role of language for emotions, advances the understanding of neural correlates of attachment-related emotions, and integrates emotion theories from different disciplines. We propose that four classes of emotions originate from four neuroanatomically distinct cerebral systems. These emotional core systems constitute a quartet of affect systems: the brainstem-, diencephalon-, hippocampus-, and orbitofrontal-centred affect systems. The affect systems were increasingly differentiated during the course of evolution, and each of these systems generates a specific class of affects (e.g., ascending activation, pain/pleasure, attachment-related affects, and moral affects). The affect systems interact with each other, and activity of the affect systems has effects on – and interacts with – biological systems denoted here as emotional effector systems. These effector systems include motor systems (which produce actions, action tendencies, and motoric expression of emotion), peripheral physiological arousal, as well as attentional and memory systems. Activity of affect systems and effector systems is synthesized into an emotion percept (pre-verbal subjective feeling), which can be transformed (or reconfigured) into a symbolic code such as language. Moreover, conscious cognitive appraisal (involving rational thought, logic, and usually language) can regulate, modulate, and partly initiate, activity of affect systems and effector systems. Our emotion theory integrates psychological, neurobiological, sociological, anthropological, and psycholinguistic perspectives on emotions in an interdisciplinary manner, aiming to advance the understanding of human emotions and their neural correlates.

Combining universal beauty and cultural context in a unifying model of visual aesthetic experience, by C. Redies

New open-access paper just published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience:

Redies C (2015) Combining universal beauty and cultural context in a unifying model of visual aesthetic experienceFront. Hum. Neurosci. 9:218. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2015.00218

Abstract:

In this work, I propose a model of visual aesthetic experience that combines formalist and contextual aspects of aesthetics. The model distinguishes between two modes of processing. First, perceptual processing is based on the intrinsic form of an artwork, which may or may not be beautiful. If it is beautiful, a beauty-responsive mechanism is activated in the brain. This bottom–up mechanism is universal amongst humans; it is widespread in the visual brain and responsive across visual modalities. Second, cognitive processing is based on contextual information, such as the depicted content, the intentions of the artist or the circumstances of the presentation of the artwork. Cognitive processing is partially top–down and varies between individuals according to their cultural experience. Processing in the two channels is parallel and largely independent. In the general case, an aesthetic experience is induced if processing in both channels is favorable, i.e., if there is resonance in the perceptual processing channel (“aesthetics of perception”), and successful mastering in the cognitive processing channel (“aesthetics of cognition”). I speculate that this combinatorial mechanism has evolved to mediate social bonding between members of a (cultural) group of people. Primary emotions can be elicited via both channels and modulate the degree of the aesthetic experience. Two special cases are discussed. First, in a subset of (post-)modern art, beauty no longer plays a prominent role. Second, in some forms of abstract art, beautiful form can be enjoyed with minimal cognitive processing. The model is applied to examples of Western art. Finally, implications of the model are discussed. In summary, the proposed model resolves the seeming contradiction between formalist perceptual approaches to aesthetic experience, which are based on the intrinsic beauty of artworks, and contextual approaches, which account for highly individual and culturally dependent aspects of aesthetics.