Contemporary approaches in empirical aesthetics

Art forms in nature and their colour

Liliana Albertazzi

The association between shapes and colours has been explored both in the artistic domain, and more recently in the experimental domain. In a recent study, conducted at CIMeC, we tested whether the general population exhibits naturally-biased associations between two different dimensions (geometrical shape and colour) of the same modality. Results show that the choices of colour for each shape were not random and that the main aspect determining these relationships are the 'warmth' and degree of 'natural lightness' of hues. Also the morphological characteristics of natural shapes have received close interest in aesthetic studies, for example those on Art Nouveau. We present here a second study on the naturally biased association between perceptual biological shapes and characteristics of colours . The results show a significant discrimination between two basic shape characteristics--roundedness as opposed to elongation: the round shapes as naturally matched by reddish warm colours and the elongated shapes are matched by cold bluish colour. Albertazzi, L., Canal, L., Da Pos, O., Micciolo, R., Malfatti, M., and Vescovi. M. 2012, in press. 'The hue of shapes.' Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance. Dadam, J., Albertazzi, L., Canal, L., Da Pos, O., Micciolo, R. 2012. 'Morphological patterns and their colours'. Perceptual & Motor Skills, 114(1): 1-15. Haeckel, E. H. 1904/2004 Kunstformen der Natur. Munich-Berlin-London-New York: Prestel. Kandinsky, W. 1926. Punkt Linie zur Fl├Ąche. Bern: Benteli. En tr. 1979, New York: Dover Publications. Spector, F., and Maurer, D. 2008. 'The colour of Os: Naturally biased associations between shape and colour.' Perception, 37: 841-847. Spector, F., and Maurer, D. 2011. 'The colors of the alphabet: Naturally biased associations between shape and colour.' Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance 37(2): 484-495.

Perception of emotion in abstract artworks

David Melcher

I will discuss an approach to studying the perception of emotion in artworks that combines an art historical and cognitive neuroscience approach. From the perspective of art history, many artists and critics have made specific, testable claims about the expression of specific emotions in particular works. For cognitive neuroscience, any theory that attempts to account for human perception of emotion must go beyond the study of facial emotions to include all emotional stimuli, such as visual art and music. In collaboration with colleagues at the Museo di arte Moderna e Contemporanea di Trento e Rovereto (MART) and the Center for Mind/Brain Sciences (CIMeC), we have used converging methods including computational vision, experimental psychology, eye-tracking and neuroimaging to characterize the emotional response of a large group of observers to a several hundred abstract paintings. We believe that this methodology offers a promising approach to study the role of emotions in aesthetic experience.

Fechner, Mondrian, and experimenting in aesthetics

Chris McManus

Fechner, the founding father of experimental aesthetics, described three methods for researching on aesthetics -- the Method of Choice, the Method of Production and the Method of Use. Most modern research uses the Method of Choice, the Method of Production is sometimes used, and the Method of Use is rare. In this paper I will describe some issues and problems of using the Method of Choice, mainly in the aesthetics of rectangles, Fechner's own topic. I will then describe some results using the Method of Production, firstly in photography, where the technique works well, and I will then describe some work exploring the paintings of Mondrian, where a number of methodological problems become apparent, which I will explore.

Human Color Preferences: An Ecological Approach

Stephen Palmer and Karen Schloss

Color preference is an important aspect of human behavior, but little is known about why people like the colors they do. Recent results from the Berkeley Color Project (BCP) provide an answer. I will report measurements of preferences among 37 colors and the fit of several models to these data, including ones based on physiology (cone-contrasts), phenomenology (color-appearances and color-emotion associations), and ecological preferences (Palmer & Schloss's ecological valence theory (EVT), which is based on the statistics of people's emotional reactions to colored objects. The EVT postulates that color serves an evolutionary 'steering' function, analogous to taste preferences, biasing organisms to approach advantageous objects and avoid disadvantageous ones. It predicts that people will tend to like colors to the extent that they like the objects that are characteristically that color, averaged over all such objects. A quantitative formulation of the EVT predicts 80% of the variance in average preference ratings, much more variance than any of the other models. I will also describe how hue preferences for single colors differ as a function of object-type, gender, expertise, culture, social institutions, and perceptual experience, and how many of these effects might be explained by the EVT.

Bringing art into the lab and science into the museum: A new way of doing empirical aesthetics?

Johan Wagemans

After reviewing some general characteristics of experimental aesthetics, I describe and discuss the Parallellepipeda project, a cross-over project between artists and scientists in Leuven. In particular, I sketch how it started and how it was developed further, with close interactions between the participating artists and scientists. A few examples of specific research projects are mentioned to illustrate the kind of research questions we address and the methodological approach we have taken. We often found an effect of providing participants with additional information, a difference between novice and expert participants, and a shift with increasing experience with an artwork, in the direction of tolerating more complexity and acquiring more order from it. These findings suggest that an artwork becomes a stronger Gestalt by establishing more connections between parts of an artwork and more associations to the artwork, which is then more easily mastered by the viewer and leads to increased appreciation. In the final part of the talk, I extract some general lessons from the project regarding a possible new way of doing empirical aesthetics research, which is able to solve some of the problems of traditional experimental aesthetics (e.g., trade-off between experimental control and ecological validity).