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Psychology Aesthetics and Art
by
Pablo Tinio, Jeffrey Smith

Introduction

The psychology of art and aesthetics is the study of the perception and experience of art and of what is beautiful. Art is a human phenomenon, and therefore aesthetics is fundamentally a psychological process. Psychological aesthetics evolved from the study of aesthetics by philosophers such as Baumgarten and Kant. It was Gustav T. Fechner (see Foundational Works) who took aesthetics out of the realm of contemplative musings by developing rigorous procedures for studying the arts. He subjected beliefs derived from philosophical work, such as the golden section, to empirical investigation. Today, the psychology of art and aesthetics incorporates a host of different areas of study, including visual arts, music, literary reading, dance, cinema, and product design. The Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts (originally the Psychology of the Arts) is one of the charter divisions of the American Psychological Association. Researchers address a multitude of psychological topics such as visual and auditory perception, knowledge and memory, and preferences and emotion, using a variety of approaches, from experimental and physiological methodologies to qualitative analyses and state-of-the-art imaging techniques. Furthermore, aesthetics researchers compare art experts to novices, develop models of aesthetic reactions to works of art, and look at how people perceive art in museum settings. Although aesthetics has traditionally been closely tied to beauty, research today encompasses those works of art that elicit negative reactions and even those that are intended to offend. The literature included in this bibliography focuses on classic texts that have proposed an original theory, concept, or debate related to the psychology of arts and aesthetics as well as more recent works that have attempted to revisit prior work and stimulate current debates. The order of presentation is based more on the similarity (or contrast) among the various sources and on the progression of ideas than on a strict chronology. The first section presents the foundational readings. This is followed by articles that provide general overviews and present formal models integrating the many aspects of the psychology of art and aesthetics. Basic features of art-related stimuli and mediators of the aesthetic experience are then examined. The next broad sections describe literature on the search for meaning during aesthetic experiences, the influence of personal characteristics such as art expertise and personality on the perception and interpretation of art, and the experience of aesthetic emotions. Following these sections are descriptions of three emerging areas in psychological aesthetics, namely, neuroaesthetics, evolutionary aesthetics, and the psychology of photography. Finally, psychological aesthetics in the context of museums, education, and culture is presented.

Foundational Works

This section examines foundational literature reflecting the history of, and contemporary state of, the psychology of art and aesthetics. Fechner 1876 is often associated with the founding of the psychology of art and aesthetics. It served as a catalyst for the works of future scholars, such as Arnheim 1954, which situated the study of aesthetics within the context of Gestalt psychology, and Gombrich 1960, which did so within the context of general psychology. Berlyne 1971 and Kreitler and Kreitler 1972 are seminal works that revived the field in the 1970s by generating numerous testable hypotheses, especially those concerning features inherent in the stimulus. From this period, research in the psychology of aesthetics grew in terms of both the number of researchers investigating the area as well as the definitions of the phrase “psychology of aesthetics” and what is studied under its rubric. Winner 1982 and Solso 1994 reflect the scholarship that has been undertaken in research carried out during the 20th century. Locher, et al. 2006 provides a representation of the current issues and future directions of the psychology of art and aesthetics.

  • Arnheim, R. 1954. Art and visual perception. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

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    Lays the foundation for his Gestalt psychology of art. It focuses on how the meaning and expressiveness of an artwork are derived from its compositional structure and the dynamic interactions among the various features. Thus, even the most complex of experiences ultimately stems from the configuration of compositional elements.

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  • Berlyne, D. E. 1971. Aesthetics and psychobiology. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts.

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    The book presents Berlyne’s most important ideas, such as how psychological phenomena, including aesthetic responses, are founded on physiological processes, of which arousal is a central process. Berlyne introduces his concept of “collative variables,” which refers to stimulus properties that influence arousal and which in turn influence the hedonic value of the stimulus.

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  • Fechner, G. T. 1876. Vorschule der Ästhetik. Leipzig: Breitkopf & Härtel.

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    This work marked the transition from the philosophical approach to aesthetics to the more experimental approach. Fechner ushered in not only a completely new approach to conceptualizing aesthetics, but, drawing heavily on his psychophysics background, he also introduced new quantitative methodologies that provided greater experimental control for studying aesthetics issues.

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  • Gombrich, E. H. 1960. Art and illusion: A study in the psychology of pictorial representation. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press.

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    Gombrich explicitly conveys the importance of psychology in the study of aesthetics and the arts, especially visual arts. The author delves into longstanding issues such as the role of imitation of nature in art. Gombrich claims that artists create by using what they know and then compare this creation to what they see.

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  • Kreitler, H., and S. Kreitler. 1972. Psychology of the arts. Durham, NC: Duke Univ. Press.

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    Kreitler and Kreitler present a cognitive theory of aesthetics based on the idea that a stimulus such as an artwork—visual arts, poetry, dance, and architecture—and the structure of and characteristics of its corresponding components stimulate certain cognitive processes that produce an art experience.

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  • Locher, P., C. Martindale, and L. Dorfman. 2006. New directions in aesthetics, creativity, and the arts. Amityville, NY: Baywood.

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    This book covers the aesthetics of visual arts; creativity; the cognitive psychology of music, literature, and visual arts; and the influence of affect and personality on creativity and aesthetic experience. This is a great introduction into the field.

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  • Solso, R. L. 1994. Cognition and the visual arts. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

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    Provides an introduction to the cognitive psychology of the visual arts using research from vision science, psychophysiology, neuroscience, and neural network modeling. Addresses phenomena such as figure-ground, perceived contrast, visual ambiguities, illusions, and visual perspective as well as observer-related factors such as memory and expertise in arts.

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  • Winner, E. 1982. Invented worlds: The psychology of the arts. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press.

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    Winner considers both sides of the topic, from the creation of art to its perception, and the book encompasses visual arts, music, literature, and poetry. Topics are explored from multiple perspectives. For example, the chapter on the audience or perceiver of art includes the perspectives of Freud, Fechner, Berlyne, and Eysenck.

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Models and General Overviews

Each of these landmark articles presents key ideas and reviews significant research in psychological aesthetics. The models presented in this section vary in their scope and focus, and they suggest testable hypotheses for future research. Leder, et al. 2004 provides a comprehensive model that has been applied to the aesthetics of visual arts, music, and performing arts. Chatterjee 2003 describes the neural underpinnings of the aesthetic experience. Jacobsen 2006 takes a broad perspective on the aesthetic experience by conceptualizing it from the level of the person to social and cultural contexts. Locher, et al. 2010 describes a model that takes into account the interaction between a consumer product and its user. Koelsch and Siebel 2005 provides a model for the aesthetics of music perception. Each of these models describes the aesthetic experience in terms of both bottom-up (stimulus-based) and top-down (person-based) cognitive processes.

  • Chatterjee, A. 2003. Prospects for a cognitive neuroscience of visual aesthetics. Bulletin of Psychology and the Arts 4:55–60.

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    This article proposes a cognitive neuroscientific framework of visual aesthetics. The framework draws heavily on vision research and takes into account both early and late, as well as parallel and hierarchical, processing. A discussion of the emotional aspects of the aesthetic experience is provided, with emphasis on their neural underpinnings.

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  • Jacobsen, T. 2006. Bridging the arts and sciences: A framework for the psychology of aesthetics. Leonardo 39:155–162.

    DOI: 10.1162/leon.2006.39.2.155Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Jacobsen considers psychological aesthetics from seven different levels of analysis: diachronia (foundational and developmental patterns), ipsichronia (societies, cultures, and subcultures), mind, body, content, person, and situation. This article endorses an interdisciplinary approach to psychological aesthetics.

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  • Koelsch, S., and W. A. Siebel. 2005. Towards a neural basis of music perception. Trends in Cognitive Sciences 9:578–584.

    DOI: 10.1016/j.tics.2005.10.001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Presents a neural model of the experience of music in which the different stages of listening to music are related to activities in differing areas of the brain. The article also takes into account various psychological processes, including language, memory, and psychophysiological responses.

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  • Leder, H., B. Belke, A. Oeberst, and D. Augustin. 2004. A model of aesthetic appreciation and aesthetic judgments. British Journal of Psychology 95:489–508.

    DOI: 10.1348/0007126042369811Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An influential article that describes a multistage information-processing model of aesthetic appreciation and aesthetic judgments. The model takes into account the entire aesthetic experience, from an initial automatic assessment of an artwork’s basic visual features to higher-level cognitive processes involving a person’s background knowledge and expertise.

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  • Locher, P., K. Overbeeke, and S. Wensveen. 2010. Aesthetic interaction: A framework. Design Issues 26:70–79.

    DOI: 10.1162/DESI_a_00017Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An information-processing model is proposed that describes aesthetic experiences resulting from the interactions of people with consumer and design products. The model accounts for both bottom-up and top-down factors affecting aesthetic interactions with design products. Although the model is specific to design products, it nonetheless applies to psychological aesthetics in general.

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Journals

Research and theoretical articles on the psychology of art and aesthetics are published in a variety of journals. However, Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, Empirical Studies of the Arts, and Visual Arts Research are the main journals in the field. In addition to these three journals, interested scholars should also consider the following journals that have published many articles on art and aesthetics: British Journal of Psychology, Acta Psychologica, Leonardo, Perception, Perceptual & Motor Skills, Spatial Vision, and Poetics.

Features Inherent to a Stimulus

Consensus is general among scholars studying the psychology of aesthetics that an aesthetic experience depends on an interaction between features of a stimulus, such as visual symmetry and musical pitch, and the characteristics of a person, such as overall knowledge, background experiences in art, and affective state. In fact, all of the major models of the psychology of aesthetics (e.g., Chatterjee, et al. 2003; Leder, et al. 2004 under Models and General Overviews) incorporate this interaction between bottom-up and top-down features. Literature is presented here on complexity, symmetry, and curvature, which are bottom-up, basic stimulus features that make their impression on aesthetic experiences during the early stages of cognitive processing. People typically respond to these features automatically, that is, the effects of these features take place below the level of consciousness. They lend themselves well to research methodologies that involve tight experimental control using fairly basic and emotionally neutral stimuli. Basic stimulus features were some of the first and most enduring topics of aesthetics research.

Complexity

The study of stimulus complexity dates back as early as Fechner (see Fechner 1876 in Foundational Works), who, along with those who followed him, considered it a key variable influencing aesthetic responses to various stimuli. In this section, we present research on complexity that is consistent with the empirical aesthetics tradition initiated by Fechner. Birkhoff 1933 and Eysenck 1941 constitute early attempts to mathematically model the aesthetic appeal of objects. The formulations of both authors included complexity as a central element, although in different ways. Barron 1953 and Eisenman 1968 relate the preference for complexity to personality characteristics, which nicely illustrate the simultaneous examination of bottom-up and top-down factors. Similarly, Berlyne 1970 shows that the preference for complexity could be modulated by familiarity with a stimulus. Finally, Nadal, et al. 2010 attempts to determine the factors that account for some of the conflicting findings from previous studies. In addition to these sources, readers should consider some of the foundational literature described in Foundational Works, especially Berlyne 1971, Arnheim 1954, and Kreitler and Kreitler 1972, which also discuss complexity.

  • Barron, F. 1953. Complexity-simplicity as a personality dimension. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology 48:163–172.

    DOI: 10.1037/h0054907Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This article describes results of experiments that assessed the relationship between the preference for either simplicity or complexity and performance on various personality measures.

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  • Berlyne, D. E. 1970. Novelty, complexity, and hedonic pleasures. Perception & Psychophysics 8:279–286.

    DOI: 10.3758/BF03212593Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This is one of the first studies to show that the influence of complexity on the hedonic value of a stimulus is mediated by its novelty (or familiarity).

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  • Berlyne, D. E. 1971. Aesthetics and psychobiology. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts.

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    Complexity, which Berlyne considered a collative variable, occupied a central role in his influential psychobiological theory. According to Berlyne, people prefer moderately complex stimuli as compared to simple or overly complex stimuli.

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  • Birkhoff, G. D. 1933. Aesthetic measure. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press.

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    According to Birkhoff, the aesthetic value of an object is defined by the formula M = O / C, where M refers to aesthetic value, O to order, and C to complexity. Increasing complexity in this sense meant a decrease in the aesthetic value of an object.

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  • Eisenman, R. 1968. Personality and demography in complexity-simplicity. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 32:140–143.

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    Eisenman builds upon the findings in Barron 1953 on the relationship between preferences for simplicity or complexity and certain personality dimensions.

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  • Eysenck, H. J. 1941. The empirical determination of an aesthetic formula. Psychological Review 48:83–92.

    DOI: 10.1037/h0062483Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Proposed that aesthetic preferences for objects are determined by the formula M = O x C. In contrast to Birkhoff 1933 in which increasing complexity in Eysenck’s formula resulted in a decrease in the aesthetic value of an object.

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  • Nadal, M., E. Munar, G. Marty, and C. J. Cela-Conde. 2010. Visual complexity and beauty appreciation: Explaining the divergence of results. Empirical Studies of the Arts 28:173–191.

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    Tested the dimensions that influence perceived complexity and how these influence aesthetic judgments. The authors concluded that conflicting findings of past research on complexity might be due to the different ways that complexity was operationally defined, such as according to the number and diversity of elements, or as symmetry and asymmetry.

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Symmetry

Stimulus symmetry, like complexity, has been examined since the early days of aesthetics research. In fact, symmetry and complexity are considered by many scholars to be highly related. For example, it is known that within a given stimulus, an increase in symmetry leads to a decrease in perceived complexity while a decrease in symmetry leads to an increase in perceived complexity (Eisenman 1968). This is the case with the theories found in Birkhoff 1933 and Eysenck 1941 (see Complexity for these works). For both, symmetry is subsumed under the category of order. Humphrey and Humphrey 1989 shows that the preference for symmetry might be innate, which is supported by studies that have demonstrated the perceptual salience of symmetry (Locher and Wagemans 1993). However, the effects of symmetry on aesthetic judgments vary by individual persons, as Jacobsen and Höfel 2002 show. These authors also showed the strength of using basic, highly controlled stimuli in symmetry studies. On the other hand, McManus 2005 demonstrates that symmetry is an important factor even in complex stimuli such as works of art.

  • Eisenman, R. 1968. Semantic differential ratings of polygons varying in complexity-simplicity and symmetry-asymmetry. Perceptual and Motor Skills 26:1243–1248.

    DOI: 10.2466/pms.1968.26.3c.1243Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Semantic Differential Scales consisting of beautiful-ugly, fast-slow, and strong-weak dimensions were used to evaluate stimuli with varying levels of complexity and symmetry.

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  • Humphrey, G. K., and D. E. Humphrey. 1989. The role of structure in infant visual pattern perception. Canadian Journal of Psychology 43:165–182.

    DOI: 10.1037/h0084218Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This work showed that the preference for symmetrical over asymmetrical objects, which has been repeatedly found in adults, is also found in infants. It provides evidence for an innate tendency of human beings to prefer symmetry.

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  • Jacobsen, T., and L. Höfel. 2002. Aesthetic judgments of novel graphic patterns: Analyses of individual judgments. Perceptual and Motor Skills 95:755–766.

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    Assessed the influence of symmetry and complexity on aesthetic judgments at both individual and group levels. At the group level, the strongest predictor of judgments was symmetry, followed by complexity. However, this pattern was not found for all participants when the data were analyzed at the level of individual participants.

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  • Locher, P. J., and J. Wagemans. 1993. Effects of element type and spatial grouping on symmetry detection. Perception 22:565–587.

    DOI: 10.1068/p220565Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This article presents an excellent overview of factors that influence the perception of symmetry, including symmetry axis (vertical, horizontal, and oblique), and research relevant to these factors is described. The processes involved in detecting symmetry are also examined.

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  • McManus, I. C. 2005. Symmetry and asymmetry in aesthetics and the arts. European Review 13:157–180.

    DOI: 10.1017/S1062798705000736Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An investigation of not only symmetry but also asymmetry in the visual arts, with references to particular artworks set within specific historical contexts. The author examines the tension between symmetry and asymmetry and describes the psychological properties associated with them. The author also delves into the issue of left- and right-facing direction in portrait painting.

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Curvature

Since Fechner 1876 (see Foundational Works), the psychology of art and aesthetics has had a long tradition of examining people’s preferences for shapes and characteristics of basic forms such as curvature (or angularity). There has been a resurgence of research during the last decade on the preference for curved, as opposed to angular or sharp forms and objects. Simple shapes are used as stimuli in Silvia and Barona 2009 while complex stimuli are used in Bar and Neta 2006 and Leder and Carbon 2005. Curvature preference seems to be a stable effect, although Carbon 2010 shows that it could be modulated by historical context. Finally, Bar and Neta 2007 shows evidence that specific brain areas are active during the perception of sharp, as opposed to curved, objects, and an evolutionary explanation for the effect is provided.

  • Bar, M., and M. Neta. 2006. Humans prefer curved visual objects. Psychological Science 17:645–648.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9280.2006.01759.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This is one of the few studies that have employed images of real objects (it also used meaningless abstract patterns). This study showed that people prefer objects with curved contours to objects with sharp contours. The authors state that people are threatened by sharp contoured objects, which is the reason they preferred them less.

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  • Bar, M., and M. Neta. 2007. Visual elements of subjective preference modulate amygdala activation. Neuropsychologia 45:2191–2200.

    DOI: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2007.03.008Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Here Bar and Neta extended their previous study on curvature. Functional magnetic resonance imaging is used to identify the neurological structures underlying the curvature preference. Results indicate greater amygdala activation associated with viewing sharp as compared to curved objects. The amygdala has previously been linked to fear.

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  • Carbon, C. C. 2010. The cycle of preference: Long-term dynamics of aesthetic appreciation. Acta Psychologica 134:233–244.

    DOI: 10.1016/j.actpsy.2010.02.004Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    In an innovative approach to examining the curvature preference, Carbon presents evidence that supports the idea that people prefer curved objects. This preference is set in the context of long-term trends—fashion, Zeitgeist, and evolution—associated with consumer products.

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  • Leder, H., and C. C. Carbon. 2005. Dimensions in appreciation of car interior design. Applied Cognitive Psychology 19:603–618.

    DOI: 10.1002/acp.1088Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The authors assess the preference for curvature, complexity, and innovation in car interior designs. Curved (and less innovative) car interior designs were preferred more than those that were sharply contoured. Participants’ interest and expertise in art were found to be modulating variables.

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  • Silvia, P. J., and C. M. Barona. 2009. Do people prefer curved objects? Angularity, expertise, and aesthetic preference. Empirical Studies in the Arts 27:25–42.

    DOI: 10.2190/EM.27.1.bSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    In this simultaneous assessment of bottom-up and top-down factors, while controlling for stimulus complexity, typicality, and balance, the finding that people prefer stimuli with curved contours was confirmed. Art expertise interacted with curvature, although the findings could not be interpreted in a straightforward manner.

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Composition and Pictoral Balance

Arnheim 1982 (see also Arnheim 1954 in Foundational Works) brought to prominence the centrality of structural and formal qualities of works of art in relation to how they are aesthetically experienced. McManus, et al. 1985 constitutes one of the first studies to experimentally test this idea, which was later extended in Locher, et al. 1996 and Locher 2003. Locher, et al. 2005 further investigates how color elements interact with pictorial balance using reproductions of Mondrian’s neoplastic artworks. Vartanian, et al. 2005 continues this tradition of using artworks in an investigation of whether the pictorial balance and composition of art masterpieces differed significantly from those of lesser quality artworks.

  • Arnheim, R. 1982. The power of the center: A study of composition in the visual arts. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

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    Presents a theory wherein the perception of things in the world involves the simultaneous actions of two spatial systems: the cosmic and the parochial. The visual structure of artworks also involves this dynamic interaction. The meaning and power of a work of art emanate from the composition of visual elements arranged about a balancing center.

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  • Locher, P. J. 2003. An empirical investigation of the visual rightness theory of picture perception. Acta Psychologica. 114:147–164.

    DOI: 10.1016/j.actpsy.2003.07.001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Examined people’s ability to discriminate among reproductions of original artworks and two perturbed versions: slight and extreme relocation of pictorial elements. Participants were generally able to discriminate between the original and extremely perturbed versions. Evidence was found that discrimination depended on the individual’s approach to the artworks.

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  • Locher, P., S. Gray, and C. Nodine. 1996. The structural framework of pictorial balance. Perception 25:1419–1436.

    DOI: 10.1068/p251419Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    These studies extend McManus, et al.’s previous work. Participants trained in art and untrained in art were similarly able to detect changes in balance due to perturbations of the compositional structures of paintings. However, these disruptions in composition, as reflected in ratings of balance, were found only in art-trained participants.

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  • Locher, P., K. Overbeeke, and P. J. Stappers. 2005. Spatial balance of color triads in the abstract art of Piet Mondrian. Perception 34:169–189.

    DOI: 10.1068/p5033Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Assessed how subjective balance is influenced by the relationship between color areas and perceived weight. This relationship was shown for both art-trained and untrained participants. The perceived balance centers were different for original and altered paintings for both art-trained and untrained participants. Art-trained participants, however, showed greater sensitivity to manipulations.

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  • McManus, I. C., D. Edmondson, and J. Rodger. 1985. Balance in pictures. British Journal of Psychology 76:311–324.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.2044-8295.1985.tb01955.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Examined the influence of various features of pictures and basic visual displays on subjective balance. Features tested consisted of color, original versus modified, size, and aspect ratio. There was consistency among participants’ judgments of the balance centers, but there were also complex interactions among these features.

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  • Vartanian, O., C. Martindale, J. Podsiadlo, S. Overbay, and J. Borkum. 2005. The link between composition and balance in masterworks vs. paintings of lower artistic quality. British Journal of Psychology 96:493–503.

    DOI: 10.1348/000712605X47927Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Examined the distinction between masterpieces and artworks of lesser quality solely on the basis of composition and balance. Perceived balance was similar in the two types of artworks and the compositions of the masterpieces were not more closely linked to balance. Factors other than composition distinguish the two types of artworks.

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Composition and the Human Visual System

Another major theme in studies of composition refers to the interface between compositional elements and properties of the human visual system (Tyler 2007). Two main areas consistent with this thinking have emerged. The first concerns the aesthetic oblique effect identified in Latto, et al. 2000 in a laboratory study and later demonstrated in Latto and Russell-Duff 2002 in a collection of artworks in a museum. The second area, regarding eye centering in portraits, gained prominence (and controversy) following the claim made in Tyler 1998 that portrait painters throughout history have exhibited a tendency to center one eye of their sitters on the center of the canvas. McManus and Thomas 2007 challenges this theory by showing contradictory evidence.

  • Latto, R., D. Brain, and B. Kelly. 2000. An oblique effect in aesthetics: Homage to Mondrian (1872–1944). Perception 29:981–987.

    DOI: 10.1068/p2352Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The “aesthetic oblique effect,” the claim that people prefer visual stimuli that somehow correspond (or match) the characteristics of the visual system, was investigated. Preference was found for Mondrian paintings with horizontal and vertical lines as compared to those with oblique lines.

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  • Latto, R., and K. Russell-Duff. 2002. An oblique effect in the selection of line orientation by twentieth century painters. Empirical Studies of the Arts 20:49–60.

    DOI: 10.2190/3VEY-RC3B-9GM7-KGDYSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Latto and Russell-Duff provide a review of empirical research supporting the “oblique effect.” The effect is examined through a survey of real artworks in a museum. Results show that horizontal and vertical lines are the dominant elements in compositions of artworks.

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  • McManus, I. C., and P. Thomas. 2007. Eye centering in portraits: A theoretical and empirical evaluation. Perception 36:167–182.

    DOI: 10.1068/p5578Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The authors conducted a survey of portraits similar to that performed in Tyler 1998, and additionally, a Monte Carlo simulation of portrait production and an experiment involving a two-alternative, forced choice between eye-centered and uncentered versions of portraits. None of the studies supports the existence of the eye-centering principle.

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  • Tyler, C. W. 1998. Painters centre one eye in portraits. Nature 392:877–878.

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    An analysis of 265 portrait paintings showed a tendency for painters to locate the eye of the sitter on the horizontal center of the canvas. Tyler argues that because this “eye-centering principle” is absent from classic texts on art composition, it must be an unconscious hidden principle.

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  • Tyler, C. W. 2007. Some principles of spatial organization in art. Spatial Vision 20:509–530.

    DOI: 10.1163/156856807782758377Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Tyler describes compositional principles in art, including the compositional pyramid and the golden section. The author pays special attention to eye centering as a compositional principle in portrait painting.

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The Golden Section

The golden section was long believed by the ancients to be fundamental to aesthetics. Empirical research on the golden section was first conducted by Fechner, which Höge 1995 examines critically. Since then, numerous studies have been conducted on the topic (reviewed in Benjafield 1985 and Benjafield 2010). The golden section remains a highly debated topic mainly because the findings about it have been mixed with evidence supporting (e.g., Green 1995) and evidence negating (e.g., Höge 1997) its existence as a fundamental principle in the arts and aesthetics. However, McManus 1980 and McManus, et al. 2010 show that methodological factors may be the reason behind the conflicting findings. These different perspectives are addressed in a special issue on the golden section in Empirical Studies of the Arts.

  • Benjafield, J. 1985. A review of recent research on the golden section. Empirical Studies of the Arts 3:117–134.

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    This review of research on the golden section presents a discussion of related methodological issues that influence the detection of a preference for the golden section. Benjafield argues for the existence of the golden section.

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  • Benjafield, J. G. 2010. The golden section and American psychology, 1892–1938. Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences 46:52–71.

    DOI: 10.1002/jhbs.20409Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Provides a historical context for the golden section through the lives of four renowned American psychologists: Lightner Witmer, Edward L. Thorndike, Robert S. Woodworth, and Robert M. Ogden. The article includes a description of the conditions leading up to the emergence of experimental aesthetics as a field of study, including an account of Zeising’s influence on Fechner.

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  • Höge, Holger. Special Issue on the Golden Section. 1997. Empirical Studies of the Arts. Vol. 15. Amityville, NY: Baywood.

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    Contributors include Holger Höge; Frans Boselie; John Benjafield and Keith McFarlane; W. D. K. Macrosson and G. C. Strachan; George K. Shortess, J. Craig Clarke, and Kathleen Shannon; Vladimir J. Konecni; and I. C. McManus and P. Weatherby. This issue serves as a useful introduction to the main concepts and issues.

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  • Green, C. D. 1995. All that glitters: A review of psychological research on the aesthetics of the golden section. Perception 24:937–968.

    DOI: 10.1068/p240937Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A comprehensive survey of research on the golden section. It includes a description of the golden section, with accompanying figures and equations that are especially useful for those seeking an introduction. The author concludes that the golden section exists, but inadequacies of research methods have led to conflicting findings.

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  • Höge, H. 1995. Fechner’s experimental aesthetics and the golden section hypothesis today. Empirical Studies of the Arts 13:131–148.

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    A review of research on the golden section is presented with emphasis on the motivation behind Fechner’s 1876 early studies. The author also discusses the methodological factors that may have contributed to the conflicting findings regarding the golden section. Two experiments fail to support the claim that people prefer the golden section.

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  • Höge, H. 1997. The golden section hypothesis—its last funeral. Empirical Studies of the Arts 15:233–255.

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    Höge details the landmark research in Fechner 1876 (cited under Foundational Works) on the golden section, provides an account of the historical context in which the golden section debate has taken place, and presents replication data that cast doubt on the reliability and validity of Fechner’s findings.

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  • McManus, I. C. 1980. The aesthetics of simple figures. British Journal of Psychology 71:505–524.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.2044-8295.1980.tb01763.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Reviews past research on the preference for the golden section, with emphasis on the methodological weaknesses that have led to false positive results. Three experiments showed a preference for a proportion similar to the golden section. This was evident only when the data were analyzed at the level of individual participants.

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  • McManus, I. C., R. Cook, and A. Hunt. 2010. Beyond the golden section and normative aesthetics: Why do individuals differ so much in their aesthetic preferences for rectangles. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts 4:113–126.

    DOI: 10.1037/a0017316Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Preferences for rectangles of different proportions were examined, with special consideration for the square and the golden section. The results did not provide support for the golden section hypothesis. Individual differences in rectangle preferences were found, although such preferences did not correlate with personality or other individual difference measures.

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Mediators of the Aesthetic Experience

In this section, we describe three mediators of aesthetic experiences and aesthetic judgments: The Familiarity of an Object, Prototypicality, and Fluency of Processing of an object. The two essential commonalities among these mediators are that their effects seem limited to emotionally neutral contexts and stimuli and that they produce only a mild positive affect, such as mild liking or pleasure.

The Familiarity of an Object

The idea that familiar objects should be responded to more positively than unfamiliar objects is an old theme in psychology dating back to William James. This idea was first examined in a systematic and empirical manner in Zajonc 1968, however, in an article in which the author terms the idea mere exposure. Numerous studies have since examined mere exposure. Stang 1974 and Bornstein 1989 provide comprehensive overviews of these studies. Tinio and Leder 2009 demonstrates the complexities of the familiarization effect, and Cutting 2003 shows its manifestation in social and cultural contexts.

  • Bornstein, R. F. 1989. Exposure and affect: Overview and meta-analysis of research, 1968–1987. Psychological Bulletin 106:265–289.

    DOI: 10.1037/0033-2909.106.2.265Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Most comprehensive meta-analysis of mere exposure research. It includes a detailed analysis of the original experiments in Zajonc 1968. It then presents the results of a meta-analysis that assessed the effects of methodological factors and subject variables that modulate the effect. The article ends with a discussion of the major theories on the exposure-affect relationship.

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  • Cutting, J. E. 2003. Gustave Caillebotte, French impressionism, and mere exposure. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review 10:319–343.

    DOI: 10.3758/BF03196493Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Argues that artistic canons, such as impressionism, may be promoted and maintained through mere exposure processes taking place at the level of culture. The steady presentation of certain kinds of artworks—through books, posters, and other media—results in people preferring these artworks.

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  • Stang, D. J. 1974. Methodological factors in mere exposure research. Psychological Bulletin 81: 1014–1025.

    DOI: 10.1037/h0037419Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A review of research on the mere exposure effect is presented with emphasis on how the effect is mediated by the amount of delay between exposure and rating, stimulus type (e.g., ideographs, photographs), and massed versus distributed exposure.

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  • Tinio, P. P. L., and H. Leder. 2009. Just how stable are stable aesthetic features? Symmetry, complexity, and the jaws of massive familiarization. Acta Psychologica 130:241–250.

    DOI: 10.1016/j.actpsy.2009.01.001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Builds on previous studies that have looked at the combined effects of complexity and symmetry on aesthetic judgments by assessing how stimulus familiarity mediates these effects. Results indicated that participants familiarized to simple stimuli subsequently judged complex stimuli more beautiful and participants familiarized to complex stimuli subsequently judged simple stimuli more beautiful.

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  • Zajonc, R. B. 1968. Attitudinal effects of mere exposure. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 9:1–27.

    DOI: 10.1037/h0025848Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The first experimental research on how familiarization to a stimulus influences its evaluation. Experimental and correlational studies using nonsense words, Chinese ideographs, and images of faces showed that simple and unreinforced repeated exposure to a stimulus leads to positive affect toward that stimulus—the mere exposure effect.

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Prototypicality

Whitfield and Slatter 1979 provides the first formal articulation of the idea that prototypicality influences the aesthetic evaluation of objects. Specifically, the prototypicality hypothesis refers to people’s preference for objects that are representative or are typical of their class or category. Martindale 1984 provides a neural network theory and Martindale and Moore 1988 a mathematical model describing prototypicality. The prototypicality hypothesis using artworks as stimuli is further examined in Hekkert and van Wieringen 1990. Winkielman, et al. 2006 explains prototypicality effects in terms of the authors’ fluency-preference hypothesis (see also Fluency of Processing).

  • Hekkert, P., and P. C. W. van Wieringen. 1990. Complexity and prototypicality as determinants of the appraisal of cubist paintings. British Journal of Psychology 81:483–495.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.2044-8295.1990.tb02374.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Aesthetic evaluations of abstract paintings depended mostly on complexity while those of representational paintings depended mostly on prototypicality—defined as the photographic likeness of a person depicted in a painting. The authors provide an interesting discussion of the results in terms of the aesthetic responses to art of art experts and non-experts.

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  • Martindale, C. 1984. The pleasures of thought: A theory of cognitive hedonics. Journal of Mind and Behavior 5:49–80.

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    Outlines a cognitive theory of aesthetic preferences based on a neural network model in which the more a stimulus activates a mental representation or coding units associated with it, the more aesthetic pleasure it will produce. Martindale’s theory helps to explain the relationship between prototypicality and mild aesthetic preferences.

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  • Martindale, C., and K. Moore. 1988. Priming, prototypicality, and preference. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance 14:661–670.

    DOI: 10.1037/0096-1523.14.4.661Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Five experiments involving priming test Martindale’s cognitive theory (see Martindale 1984), which accounts for the relationship between prototypicality and aesthetic preference. A mathematical model of this theory is presented.

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  • Whitfield, T. W. A., and P. E. Slatter. 1979. The effects of categorization and prototypicality on aesthetic choice in a furniture selection task. British Journal of Psychology 70:65–75.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.2044-8295.1979.tb02144.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The authors show evidence that the choice of objects (e.g., furniture) in an aesthetic task is based on categorization of the objects, and that the more typical an object is in relation to its category, the more positively it will be evaluated.

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  • Winkielman, P., J. Halberstadt, T. Fazendeiro, and S. Catty. 2006. Prototypes are attractive because they are easy on the mind. Psychological Science 17:799–806.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9280.2006.01785.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The authors show how processing fluency may mediate the prototypicality-attractiveness relationship. Two behavioral studies found that participants preferred more prototypical patterns over less prototypical ones because prototypical patterns were processed (classification task) more fluently. Facial electromyography used in a third experiment corroborated these findings.

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Fluency of Processing

The fluency with which an object can be processed influences the aesthetic evaluation of the object: the higher the processing fluency, the more positive the evaluation. The fluency hypothesis was first proposed in Reber, et al. 1998, and it was later applied explicitly to aesthetics in Reber, et al. 2004. The fluency explanation has recently shed light on other mechanisms that are known to influence aesthetic evaluations, including, principal among these, familiarity and prototypicality. Image manipulation, such as an increase in contrast, also increases processing fluency (Reber and Schwarz 2001). The more familiar or prototypical a stimulus, the more fluently it could be processed. As a consequence, it will be evaluated more positively than if it were unfamiliar or atypical (Winkielman, et al. 2006). Physiological correlates of processing fluency are identified in Winkielman and Cacioppo 2001. Regarding complex artworks, Belke, et al. 2010 shows that presenting titles that match a painting increases the painting’s processing fluency. As a result, the painting would be evaluated more positively.

  • Belke, B., H. Leder, T. Strobach, and C. C. Carbon. 2010. Cognitive fluency: High-level processing dynamics in art appreciation. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts 4:214–222.

    DOI: 10.1037/a0019648Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Presented participants with semantically related or unrelated titles and/or no titles, prior to showing images of paintings that varied in abstractness—either abstract, cubist, or representational. Paintings in the related-titles condition were evaluated most positively (especially representational paintings), followed by the no-titles and unrelated-titles conditions.

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  • Reber, R., and N. Schwarz. 2001. The hot fringes of consciousness: Perceptual fluency and affect. Consciousness and Emotion 2:223–231.

    DOI: 10.1075/ce.2.2.03rebSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Reber and Schwarz looked specifically at the influence of figure-ground contrast on the aesthetic evaluations of stimuli. Results illustrate the time course involved in the fluency effect.

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  • Reber, R., N. Schwarz, and P. Winkielman. 2004. Processing fluency and aesthetic pleasure: Is beauty in the perceiver’s processing experience? Personality and Social Psychology Review 8:364–382.

    DOI: 10.1207/s15327957pspr0804_3Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Examined stimulus-inherent features that increase fluency, including symmetry, figure-ground contrast, visual clarity, and goodness of form. Methodological and contextual factors such as familiarization and perceptual and conceptual priming could also facilitate processing fluency. The proposal in Reber, et al. of processing fluency as an explanatory framework may explain established effects in aesthetics.

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  • Reber, R., P. Winkielman, and N. Schwarz. 1998. Effects of perceptual fluency on affective judgments. Psychological Science 9:45–48.

    DOI: 10.1111/1467-9280.00008Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The landmark article on the influence of perceptual fluency on aesthetic judgments. The processing (perceptual fluency) of simple objects (drawings of objects, basic shapes) was facilitated by introducing matching primes, increasing contrast, and increasing presentation duration. Stimuli that were easier to process were evaluated more positively than stimuli that were more difficult to process.

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  • Winkielman, P., and J. T. Cacioppo. 2001. Mind at ease puts a smile on the face: Psychophysiological evidence that processing facilitation elicits positive affect. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 81:989–1000.

    DOI: 10.1037/0022-3514.81.6.989Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Used facial electromyography to measure affective reactions to images of objects that varied on how fluently they could be processed. Processing fluency was increased through priming and through increasing presentation durations. Stimuli that were easy to process were associated with higher activation of the zygomaticus region (smiling muscles) of the face.

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  • Winkielman, P., J. Halberstadt, T. Fazendeiro, and S. Catty. 2006. Prototypes are attractive because they are easy on the mind. Psychological Science 17:799–806.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9280.2006.01785.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The authors explored the relationship among prototypicality, fluency, and aesthetic judgments and specifically examined the possibility that prototypes are evaluated positively because they are processed fluently. Results showed that fluency partially accounted for the effects of prototypicality on aesthetic judgments.

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Interpretive Information, Search for Meaning, and Aesthetic Judgments

It is common for the presentation of a work of art to include accompanying information that provides the viewer with a context for engaging with and interpreting the work. Cupchik, et al. 1994 shows that interpretive information is especially useful when set in the context of a constructive task. Temme 1992 extends a laboratory study on the effects of information to a museum setting. Russell and Milne 1997 build on previous work in additionally analyzing interestingness, abstractness, and complexity ratings. These studies show that, in general, interpretive information leads to more positive aesthetic responses toward artworks. However, art expertise, as Millis 2001 shows, modulates this effect, and Smith and Carr 2001 concludes that this is especially the case with high-level expertise. Russell 2003 states that these effects are due to the effort after meaning that accompanies the experience of viewing works of art. Martindale, et al. 1990 states that the meaningfulness of a visual stimulus may even override the strong effects of basic stimulus features. Finally, Leder, et al. 2006 clarifies the findings of previous studies by examining other key variables known to influence aesthetic experiences and by conducting a more extensive data analysis.

  • Cupchik, G. C., L. Shereck, and S. Spiegel. 1994. The effects of textual information on artistic communication. Visual Arts Research 20:62–78.

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    Two experiments were conducted to examine the effects of stylistic, mood, and contextual information on cognitive and affective responses to artworks. After engaging in a task of writing their own interpretation of the artworks—a constructive activity—participants perceived the artworks as more meaningful, powerful, challenging, and interesting.

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  • Leder, H., C. C. Carbon, and A. Ripsas. 2006. Entitling art: Influence of title information on understanding and appreciation of paintings. Acta Psychologica 121:176–198.

    DOI: 10.1016/j.actpsy.2005.08.005Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    By adding presentation duration, art interest, and art knowledge as main variables, and by conducting a more extensive analysis of the data, this study builds on previous studies on the influence of titles. Titles were effective at increasing understanding only if they significantly contributed to understanding and if the type of information provided matched the time available for observing artworks.

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  • Martindale, C., K. Moore, and J. Borkum. 1990. Aesthetic preference: Anomalous findings for Berlyne’s psychobiological theory. American Journal of Psychology 103:53–80.

    DOI: 10.2307/1423259Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Challenges Berlyne’s theory, especially the claim of the relationship between aesthetic preference and arousal potential as described by an inverted U-shaped function, where stimuli with moderate arousal potential are preferred. It also presents evidence against the claim that collative variables are the most important influences on aesthetic preference—the meaningfulness of the stimuli accounted for preference more than did collative properties.

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  • Millis, K. 2001. Making meaning brings pleasure: The influence of titles on aesthetic experiences. Emotions 1:320–329.

    DOI: 10.1037/1528-3542.1.3.320Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Showed that perceived understanding of artworks increased when titles accompanied them. Although art experts found abstract artworks more understandable than did non-experts, the reverse was true for representational artworks. Aesthetic responses to artworks generally increased when they were accompanied by titles, especially elaborative ones. This was also found with experts, although only for representational artworks.

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  • Russell, P. A. 2003. Effort after meaning and the hedonic value of paintings. British Journal of Psychology 94:99–110.

    DOI: 10.1348/000712603762842138Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Investigated the influence of descriptive information on the perceived meaningfulness and pleasingness of paintings. Descriptive information increased the meaningfulness of the paintings in both experiments. However, descriptive information was shown to increase the pleasingness of paintings only when a within-subjects experimental design was used.

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  • Russell, P. A., and S. Milne. 1997. Meaningfulness and hedonic value of paintings: Effects of titles. Empirical Studies of the Arts 15:61–73.

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    Examined the effects of titles on the meaningfulness and pleasingness of paintings. In addition, the authors assessed interestingness, abstractness, and complexity ratings. Presenting informative titles with paintings increased the meaningfulness and decreased the abstractness of the paintings. Titles had no effect on perceived complexity, interestingness, and, importantly, pleasingness of the paintings.

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  • Smith, J. K., and D. W. Carr. 2001. In Byzantium. Curator 44:335–354.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.2151-6952.2001.tb01174.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Interpretation of artworks depended heavily on participants’ backgrounds with respect to the artworks. Artists and art historians looked at technical issues and situated the works within art history. Individuals inspired by religion saw the exhibition from that perspective. A third group of visitors, observers without a well-developed perspective on the works, divided into two groups.

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  • Temme, J. E. V. 1992. Amount and kind of information in museums: Its effect on visitors’ satisfaction and appreciation of art. Visual Arts Research 18:28–36.

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    Assessed the effects of information on aesthetic appreciation. This illustrates how a laboratory study could be extended to in-situ studies in museum settings, and how various measures (e.g., ratings and interviews) could be combined. Results indicated that information presented during the viewing of paintings increases aesthetic appreciation, perhaps because information reduces uncertainty associated with paintings.

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Art-Related Background Knowledge

Aesthetic experiences in general and art appreciation in particular involve complex cognitions. Even in situations in which the presentation of an object to a person is constrained—as when an image is shown for mere milliseconds—that person’s knowledge will influence how he or she will respond to it. This section examines works that address the impact of art-related knowledge on aesthetic experiences and aesthetic judgments, beginning with early studies on the subject in Cupchik and Gebotys 1988. Cupchik 1992 proposes a framework that explains why art training is necessary to attend to the formal qualities of abstract artworks. Art-related knowledge is especially influential in evaluations of aesthetic quality of artworks, as examined in the set of studies in Hekkert and van Wieringen 1996 and Hekkert and van Wieringen 1998. Why would expertise matter? Findings in Augustin and Leder 2006 show that art experts and non-experts differed in how they conceptualized and categorized artworks. Nodine, et al. 1993 explores differences in the gaze patterns between the two groups.

  • Augustin, M. D., and H. Leder. 2006. Art expertise: A study of concepts and conceptual spaces. Psychology Science 48:135–156.

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    Examined the dimensions and concepts that underlie art experts and non-experts’ aesthetic experiences of modern and contemporary artworks. Data from a grouping task showed that as compared to non-experts, art experts exhibited more differentiation in how they interpreted and categorized the artworks and based their judgments more with regard to the styles of the artworks.

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  • Cupchik, G. C. 1992. From perception to production: A multilevel analysis of the aesthetic process. In Emerging visions of the aesthetic process: Psychology, semiology, and philosophy. Edited by G. C. Cupchik and J. Laszlo, 83–99. New York: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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    Cupchik examines the aesthetic process by drawing from the ideas of luminaries in works such as Berlyne 1971 and Arnheim 1954 (see Foundational Works). One of the primary discussions is about the difference between everyday processing and aesthetic processing. Cupchik also provides an interesting discussion of the difference between aesthetic appreciation and art production, and the author analyzes these in terms of social, intrapersonal, and physiological factors.

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  • Cupchik, G. C., and R. J. Gebotys. 1988. The search for meaning in art: Interpretative styles and judgments of quality. Visual Arts Research 14:38–50.

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    One of the earliest studies on how art experts and non-experts differ in their reactions to artworks. Two experiments showed that the two groups searched for and interpreted the meaning of artworks differently, with undergraduates focusing on identifiable and realistic content and artists and art students focusing on formal and stylistic information.

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  • Hekkert, P., and P. C. W. van Wieringen. 1996. Beauty in the eye of expert and nonexpert beholders: A study in the appraisal of art. The American Journal of Psychology 109:389–407.

    DOI: 10.2307/1423013Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Examined how much agreement there was in the aesthetic judgments within and across expert and non-expert groups. Results showed that although there was some agreement between experts and non-experts in ratings of originality, experts’ judgments of aesthetic quality depended more on originality than did the judgments of non-experts. Furthermore, for ratings of quality, experts did not generally agree more than did non-experts.

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  • Hekkert, P., and P. C. W. van Wieringen. 1998. Assessment of aesthetic quality of artworks by expert observers: An empirical investigation of group decisions. Poetics 25:281–292.

    DOI: 10.1016/S0304-422X(97)00019-3Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Simulated how decisions (e.g., for awarding grants) about the aesthetic quality of artworks are made in the art world. The work marks an extension of Hekkert and van Wieringen 1996. They found that decisions based on an average of individual expert’s evaluations are more valid than those based on consensus decisions.

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  • Nodine, C. F., P. J. Locher, and E. A. Krupinski. 1993. The role of formal art training on perception and aesthetic judgment of art compositions. Leonardo 26:219–227.

    DOI: 10.2307/1575815Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This is one of the earliest studies to systematically record the eye movements of observers as they viewed artworks. Eye movement scanning patterns between art experts and non-experts were compared.

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Development and Personality Differences

This section of the bibliography further examines how person-related differences influence aesthetic responses. Readers should also consult the Art-Related Background Knowledge section and Barron 1953 and Eisenman 1968 in the Complexity section. Parsons 1989 is a major work on aesthetic development and is complemented by the aesthetic fluency concept in Smith and Smith 2006. Furnham and Avison 1997 presents an excellent literature review of the influence of personality on aesthetic judgments. McManus and Furnham 2006 looks at the relationship between personality and aesthetic judgments in examining a wide range of aesthetic activities, including watching television, going to concerts or discos, and reading nonfiction books.

  • Furnham, A., and M. Avison. 1997. Personality and preference for surreal paintings. Personality and Individual Differences 23:923–935.

    DOI: 10.1016/S0191-8869(97)00131-1Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Reviews research on the relationship between art preference and personality variables, including sensation seeking, tolerance for ambiguity, and the Big Five personality dimensions. The article also presents research on how these variables predict preference for surreal paintings, and shows sensation seeking to be the strongest predictor.

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  • McManus, I. C., and A. Furnham. 2006. Aesthetic activities and aesthetic attitudes: Influences of education, background and personality on interest and involvement in the arts. British Journal of Psychology 97:555–587.

    DOI: 10.1348/000712606X101088Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Measured the relationships among aesthetic activities and personality, demographic, and other individual characteristics using instruments such as the Big Five personality test, a questionnaire tapping aesthetic attitudes, a survey of educational and social background, and the Personal Attribute Questionnaire. Unique to this study is the wide range of aesthetic activities considered.

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  • Parsons, M. J. 1989. How we understand art: A cognitive developmental account of aesthetic experience. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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    Presents a model of aesthetic development based on a study of people’s reactions to paintings. The model consists of the following sequence of five stages: favoritism (preschoolers), beauty and realism (elementary students) expressiveness (preadolescents), style and form (late adolescents), and autonomy (adults).

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  • Smith, L. F., and J. K. Smith. 2006. The nature and growth of aesthetic fluency. In New directions in aesthetics, creativity, and the arts. Edited by P. Locher, C. Martindale, and L. Dorfman, 47–58. Amityville, NY: Baywood.

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    Proposed the new concept of aesthetic fluency—art-related knowledge that a person possesses that facilitates his or her aesthetic experiences. Results of a study show that aesthetic fluency increases as age, frequency of museum visitation, and amount of training in art history increases.

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Aesthetic Emotions

Emotions have always been considered as an important part of the experience of art. It is, however, a curious fact that few empirical studies have directly examined the emotions that accompany aesthetic experiences. Silvia 2005 argues that aesthetics should go beyond positive emotions; aesthetics should consider a wider range of emotions such as anger, disgust (Silvia and Brown 2007), and other unusual emotions (Silvia 2009). Armstrong and Detweiler-Bedell 2008 takes a different approach by considering beauty as an exhilarating emotion in itself. Jacobsen, et al. 2004 sets these studies in context by showing that most people associate aesthetics with the beauty-ugliness dimension. Cupchik 2006 approaches aesthetic emotions broadly by drawing upon philosophical ideas and themes from visual arts, literary reading, poetry, and the performing arts.

  • Armstrong, T., and B. Detweiler-Bedell. 2008. Beauty as an emotion: The exhilarating prospect of mastering a challenging world. Review of General Psychology 12:305–329.

    DOI: 10.1037/a0012558Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The authors review recent work on the psychology of aesthetics and propose that beauty is an intense emotional experience resulting from making sense of something novel and meaningful. Furthermore, recent accounts of beauty—through processing fluency, prototypicality, and familiarity—do not fully capture beauty in the grander sense.

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  • Cupchik, G. C. 2006. Emotion in aesthetics and the aesthetics of emotion. In New directions in aesthetics, creativity, and the arts. Edited by P. Locher, C. Martindale, and L. Dorfman, 47–58. Amityville, NY: Baywood.

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    Cupchik examines emotion by drawing upon both philosophical aesthetics and empirical aesthetics of the visual arts, literary reading, poetry, and the performing arts.

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  • Jacobsen, T., K. Buchta, M. Köhler, and E. Schröger. 2004. The primacy of beauty in judging the aesthetics of objects. Psychological Reports 94:1253–1260.

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    The authors attempt to determine the conceptual structure of the word “aesthetics.” Participants generated 590 different adjectives with 91.6% of them naming “beauty” and 42.1% “ugly.” The vast majority of the adjectives were positive in emotional valence. The beautiful-ugly dimension appears to be the prototypical dimension concerning the concept of aesthetics.

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  • Silvia, P. J. 2005. Emotional responses to art: From collation and arousal to cognition and emotion. Review of General Psychology 9:342–357.

    DOI: 10.1037/1089-2680.9.4.342Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Argues that the arousal model in Berlyne 1971 (see Foundational Works) fails to account for numerous empirical findings; appraisal theories of emotion, however, are able to address such findings. Appraisal theories could move aesthetics beyond positive emotions such as preference, therefore generating new hypotheses. Results of several illustrative studies by the author are presented.

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  • Silvia, P. J. 2009. Looking past pleasure: Anger, confusion, disgust, pride, surprise, and other unusual aesthetic emotions. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts 3:48–51.

    DOI: 10.1037/a0014632Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An excellent overview of “other” aesthetic emotions: knowledge emotions (interest, confusion, and surprise), for which a two-dimensional appraisal space figure is provided; hostile emotions (anger, disgust, contempt), which may lead to aggression; and self-consciousness emotions (pride, shame, regret, embarrassment) that are related to self-concept, personal goals and values, and cultural ideals.

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  • Silvia, P. J., and E. Brown. 2007. Anger, disgust, and the negative aesthetic emotions: Expanding an appraisal model of aesthetic experience. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts 1:100–106.

    DOI: 10.1037/1931-3896.1.2.100Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Silvia and Brown builds upon his recent work on the appraisal theory of aesthetic emotions, which could accomplish what past theories could not, such as account for negative emotions and allow predictions based on them. Silvia and Brown focuses on anger and disgust, and presents data showing that cognitive appraisals predict these two emotions.

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Neuroaesthetics

Neuroaesthetics is an emerging field of study that is interdisciplinary in its scope, drawing from methodologies and findings from such disparate fields as experimental psychology, neuroscience, and evolutionary biology and psychology. Zeki 1999 and Ramachandran and Hirstein 1999 both helped bring to prominence the neuroscientific study of art and aesthetics. Two of the first studies to provide neuroimaging correlates of the perception of visual artworks are provided in Kawabata and Zeki 2004 and Vartanian and Goel 2004. Biederman and Vessel 2006 proposes that people seek novel and interpretable information because this produces pleasure. Jacobsen, et al. 2006 distinguishes between descriptive and evaluative judgments, as indicated by neuroimaging data. Three works provide excellent overviews of particular aspects of neuroaesthetics. Contributors to Martindale, et al. 2007 look at neuroaesthetics in different artistic media. Chatterjee 2011 presents a comprehensive, yet focused, review of neuroaesthetics studies and identifies challenges for the future of the field. Skov and Vartanian 2009 provides an excellent overall introduction to the field.

  • Biederman, I., and E. A. Vessel. 2006. Perceptual pleasure and the brain. American Scientist 94:249–255.

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    Claims that humans are infovores and seek experiences that satisfy the cravings for richly interpretable and novel information. Richly interpretable and novel information activate association areas of the brain that contain the highest density of mu-opioid receptors, thus producing intensely pleasurable experiences. fMRI data that support this model are provided.

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  • Chatterjee, A. 2011. Neuroaesthetics: A coming of age story. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience 23:53–62.

    DOI: 10.1162/jocn.2010.21457Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Begins with a comprehensive survey of scholarly works that have led to the emergence of neuroaesthetics with emphasis on two perspectives: parallelism—techniques used by artists parallel the way the brain works and is organized—and anecdotes about brain-damaged individuals. Chatterjee also presents promising areas and challenges for neuroaesthetics.

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  • Jacobsen, T., R. I. Schubotz, L. Höfel, and D. Y. von Cramon. 2006. Brain correlates of aesthetic judgment of beauty. NeuroImage 29:276–285.

    DOI: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2005.07.010Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Showed that descriptive and beauty judgments recruit similar areas of the brain. Beauty judgments, however, were correlated with areas that have been shown by previous studies to be active during moral and social judgments.

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  • Kawabata, H., and S. Zeki. 2004. Neural correlates of beauty. Journal of Neurophysiology 91:1699–1705.

    DOI: 10.1152/jn.00696.2003Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Participants viewed beautiful, neutral, or ugly paintings while fMRI data were collected. Similar brain areas were active for beautiful and ugly paintings, but intensity of the activations varied relative to the extent that a painting was beautiful or not. It was also shown for the first time that the motor cortex is active in response to paintings.

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  • Martindale, C., P. Locher, and V. Petrov. 2007. Evolutionary and neurocognitive approaches to aesthetics, creativity, and the arts. Amityville, NY: Baywood,

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    Each of the fifteen chapters that compose this book address the evolutionary, biological, and neurological underpinnings of creative and aesthetic behaviors. The contributions are varied, and they represent different paradigms, including cognitive, information processing, sociocultural evolution, and information theory. Various artistic media are also represented, from visual arts and music to poetry and literature.

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  • Ramachandran, V. S., and W. Hirstein. 1999. The science of art: A neurological theory of aesthetic experience. Journal of Consciousness Studies 6:15–51.

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    These authors propose eight laws of aesthetic experience, which refer to principles that artists—whether consciously or not—employ to stimulate the visual areas of people’s brains, including the peak-shift effect, isolation of one visual cue, extraction of contrast, perceptual grouping, symmetry, preference for unique vantage points, visual problem solving, and visual metaphors.

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  • Skov, M., and O. Vartanian. 2009. Neuroaesthetics. Amityville, NY: Baywood.

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    Neuroaesthetics seeks integration of the various parts of which it is composed. The contributors represent the most active and innovative scholars in the field, and, beginning in the first chapter, this issue is tackled head-on. This book provides the best introduction to neuroaesthetics.

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  • Vartanian, O., and V. Goel. 2004. Neuroanatomical correlates of aesthetic preference for paintings. NeuroReport 15:893–897.

    DOI: 10.1097/00001756-200404090-00032Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    fMRI data showed that decreasing preference for paintings was associated with decreased activation in right caudate nucleus and that increasing preference was associated with increased activation in bilateral occipital gyri, left cingulate sulcus, and bilateral fusiform gyri. This pattern of activations reflects differences in the emotional valence of the stimuli.

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  • Zeki, S. 1999. Inner vision: An exploration of art and the brain. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    Argues that much could be learned about vision and the brain by examining how artists create art. Zeki contends that they do so by exploiting, perhaps unknowingly, the workings of the visual system and the brain as these process information from the environment, such as those related to colors, forms, and motion.

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Evolutionary Aesthetics

Evolutionary aesthetics, as with neuroaesthetics, is a booming field of study. In fact, the two fields are closely linked. Readers should thus consult the Neuroaesthetics section. Barkow, et al. 1992 is a comprehensive source concerning various topics in evolutionary psychology. It is an excellent general introduction to the field and includes a section on environmental aesthetics. Dissanayake 2007 draws from Darwinian theory and proposes an adaptive function of art.

  • Barkow, J. H., L. Cosmides, and J. Tooby. 1992. The adapted mind: Evolutionary psychology and the generation of culture. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    A good foundation reading for evolutionary psychology. The volume includes two articles on environmental aesthetics—types of environments and environmental features that people prefer—Kaplan’s “Environmental Preference in a Knowledge-Seeking, Knowledge-Using Organism,” and Orians and Heerwagen’s “Evolved Responses to Landscapes.”

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  • Dissanayake, E. 2007. What art is and what art does: An overview of contemporary evolutionary hypotheses. In Evolutionary and neurocognitive approaches to aesthetics, creativity and the arts. Edited by C. Martindale, P. Locher, and V. M. Petrov, 1–14. Amityville, NY: Baywood.

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    Dissanayake argues that art is universal and pleasurable and that people in all cultures devote considerable resources toward it—art-related activities are thus biological adaptations. She summarizes nine views that have been proposed about the adaptive function of art and then proposes that the function of art is to relieve tension and anxiety and to cope with uncertainty.

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Psychology of Photography

It could be argued that photography is the most accessible of the common artistic media, much more so than painting, drawing, and sculpture. Photography has mainly been discussed philosophically and has been a neglected topic in the psychology of art and aesthetics. This neglect has, however, been compensated for in recent years by innovative studies of several aspects of photography. Zakia 2007 explores the connection between psychological concepts and photographic principles. It is the only textbook of its kind. Axelsson 2007 identifies the most important dimensions underlying people’s preferences for pictures. Palmer, et al. 2008 and McManus, et al. 2011 use psychophysical methods to examine for the first time photographic techniques that have baffled photographers, philosophers, and psychologists. Finally, Tinio and Leder 2009 proposes an integrative framework for examining the effects of image manipulation on aesthetic judgments of photographs.

  • Axelsson, Ö. 2007. Towards a psychology of photography: Dimensions underlying aesthetic appeal of photographs. Perceptual and Motor Skills 105:411–434.

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    Axelsson used sorting and attribute scaling tasks to examine the characteristics of photographs that contribute to their aesthetic appeal. The most important factors were a photograph’s hedonic tone, expressiveness, familiarity, and dynamics, as well as the type of photograph, whether color or black and white.

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  • McManus, I. C., F. A. Zhou, S. l’Anson, L. Waterfield, K. Stöver, and R. Cook. 2011. The psychometrics of photographic croppings: The influence of colour, meaning, and expertise. Perception 40.3: 332–357.

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    Individual differences in approaches to cropping were found with some individuals producing more aesthetically pleasing cropped images than others. Furthermore, although there were differences between the methods used by art experts and non-experts to evaluate cropped images, there were no differences in the actual evaluations of the cropped images produced by the two groups.

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  • Palmer, S. E., J. S. Gardner, and T. D. Wickens. 2008. Aesthetic issues in spatial composition: Effects of position and direction on framing single objects. Spatial Vision 21:421–449.

    DOI: 10.1163/156856808784532662Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Two compositional elements were shown to influence preferences: the center and inward biases. The center bias refers to the preference for forward-facing objects to be placed at the center of a rectangular frame. The inward bias refers to the preference for left- or right-facing objects to face into the frame.

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  • Tinio, P. P. L., and H. Leder. 2009. Natural scenes are indeed preferred, but image quality might have the last word. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts 3:52–56.

    DOI: 10.1037/a0014835Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Demonstrated that the preference often found for images of natural scenes over images of human-made scenes could be reversed if the former images are degraded. They proposed the “taxonomy of image manipulation procedures,” which conceptualizes the specific influences of various image manipulations on aesthetic evaluations of photographs.

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  • Zakia, R. D. 2007. Perception and imaging. 3d ed. Oxford: Focal Press.

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    This textbook is organized according to topics in psychology with emphasis on visual perception concepts, including figure-ground, gestalt grouping, contour and edge effects, motion and color perception, and perceptual illusions. Other general psychology topics are also covered, including memory and personality. These topics are used to illuminate various aspects of the art of photography.

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The Museum Experience

Aesthetics research within the museum setting is also presented in Interpretive Information, Search for Meaning, and Aesthetic Judgments. Locher, et al. 1999 investigated the difference between evaluations of original artworks and their reproductions, shedding light on an important methodological issue in the psychology of art and aesthetics. Smith and Smith 2001 provides the first empirical evidence for how long people look at artworks in an actual museum. Mastandrea, et al. 2009 examines for the first time the characteristics and motivations of visitors to two different museums and how these influence their experience. The section includes the theory of flow experience presented in Csikszentmihalyi 1990, which helps to explain why museum visits often elicit powerful, awe-inspiring reactions.

  • Csikszentmihalyi, M. 1990. Flow: The psychology of optimal experience. New York: HarperCollins.

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    Although not a book on aesthetics per se, it provides an interesting account of the experience of art. According to Csikszentmihalyi, deep engagement in an art activity could result in a flow experience, wherein a sense of time is altered and focus is at its highest level.

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  • Locher, P., J. Smith, and L. Smith. 1999. Original paintings versus slide and computer reproductions: A comparison of viewer responses. Empirical Studies of the Arts 17:121–129.

    DOI: 10.2190/R1WN-TAF2-376D-EFUHSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The authors propose the “facsimile accommodation” hypothesis, which states that people evaluate original artworks and reproductions of them similarly. They do so because they accommodate to the characteristics of the reproduction (e.g., size and image quality) and direct their attention to the essential aspects of the artwork.

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  • Mastandrea, S., G. Bartoli, and G. Bove. 2009. Learning through ancient art and experiencing emotions with contemporary art: Comparing visits in two different museums. Empirical Studies of the Arts 25:173–191.

    DOI: 10.2190/R784-4504-37M3-2370Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Visitors to an ancient art museum took a cognitive approach, expecting to gain knowledge and greater understanding of the artworks. In contrast, visitors to a contemporary art museum were more focused on experiencing pleasure from their visit. The difference between the two groups may stem from art-related differences.

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  • Smith, J. K., and L. F. Smith. 2001. Spending time on art. Empirical Studies of the Arts 19:229–236.

    DOI: 10.2190/5MQM-59JH-X21R-JN5JSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Addressed the paradox that visitors to museums do not spend a lot of time looking at artworks, but report powerful and awe-inspiring experiences. The authors conclude that it is an entire collection or museum visit, and not individual artworks, that produces the powerful experiences that people associate with art.

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Education, Society, and Culture

The psychology of aesthetics and the arts, historically, has emphasized a bottom-up approach that is reflected in many of the readings in Foundational Works. Each of the works presented in this section takes into account the context in which aesthetic experiences take place. Both Dewey 1934—Dewey’s seminal work on aesthetics—and Vygotsky 1971 emphasize the social and cultural contexts and present ideas that have yet to be examined by empirical means. Dewey’s theory is based on the idea that society has elevated works of art above other artifacts and activities of human life. As a consequence, they have been isolated and disconnected from everyday experiences. Vygotsky’s perspective serves as a counterpoint to other approaches such as that of Fechner, who endorsed a bottom-up approach (see Fechner 1876 in Foundational Works). Other aspects of Vygotsky’s psychology of art include the opposition between form and content and the role of emotion in the experience of art. Masuda, et al. 2008 is an example of how the ideas put forth by Dewey and Vygotsky could be explored empirically.

  • Dewey, J. 1934. Art as experience. New York: Perigee.

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    For Dewey, aesthetic experiences should take place within the context of daily life, not simply inside concert halls, operas, galleries, and museums. Dewey’s philosophy as articulated in this book has had a considerable influence on other fields, including psychology and education. It is particularly relevant to art and aesthetics education, two areas that have recently embraced the concepts and methods of the social sciences, especially psychology.

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  • Masuda, T., R. Gonzalez, L. Kwan, and R. E. Nisbett. 2008. Culture and aesthetic preference: Comparing the attention to context of East Asians and Americans. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 34:1260–1275.

    DOI: 10.1177/0146167208320555Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Investigated the differences between East Asians and Americans in their sensitivity to context (i.e., size ratio between subject and background within a pictorial frame) during aesthetic preference and art production tasks. The authors also used archival research of renowned artworks representative of both cultures to examine how much context was included in landscape and portrait paintings. Results showed that East Asians produced and preferred artworks that included more context than Americans. The authors concluded that artistic tendencies reflect cultural traditions.

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  • Vygotsky, L. S. 1971. The psychology of art. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

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    This early work by Vygotsky focuses mainly on the aesthetics of literary reading, but it is relevant to other artistic media. Because of its focus on the sociocultural context of art and aesthetics and emphasis on developmental themes, this work is particularly relevant to education.

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LAST MODIFIED: 11/29/2011

DOI: 10.1093/OBO/9780199828340-0002

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