Session 3

Ambiguity in art: Theories, definitions and empirical data

Claudia Muth and Claus-Christian Carbon

Jakesch and Leder [2009, The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 62(11), 2105-2112] underline ambiguity as a characteristic of modern artworks. What does ambiguity actually mean and what are its specifics in modern art? We enlarge Zeki's (2004) definition by proposing different categories of ambiguity in modern art. Experimental data suggests that perceptual insights affect aesthetic appreciation which is in line with theoretical accounts claiming elaboration to be rewarding by itself [Ramachandran and Hirstein, 1999, Journal of Consciousness Studies, 6(6-7), 15-51] or the reduction of prediction errors to induce pleasure [Van de Cruys and Wagemans, 2011, i-Perception, 2(9), 1035-1062]. While experiential reports of 20 subjects elaborating 16 artworks describe possible levels of insights and ambiguity, they reveal dynamics of elaboration aside progressive mastering: Participants not only described dissolutions of ambiguity, but also the detection of contradictory elements; sometimes even associated with pleasure. Our presentation connects these findings to a broad view and critically reflects on theories like Cupchik's [1995, Poetics, 23(1-2), 177-188] distinction of reactive versus reflective aesthetic processing, Reber et al.'s [2004, Personality and Social Psychology Review, 8(4), 364-382] processing-fluency approach and Van de Cruys and Wagemans' [2011, i-Perception, 2(9), 1035-1062] recent idea of reward by reduction of uncertainty.

What makes an art expert? Emotion and evaluation in art appreciation

David Welleditsch, Gernot Gerger and Helmut Leder

Why do some people like artworks of negative, or even disgusting and provoking, content? Art expertise is assumed to play an important role by changing the interplay of cognitive and emotional factors. We employed artworks with negative and positive valence and studied how expertise affects aesthetic and/or emotional responses inferred by self-reports and facial EMG. Clearly, emotionally negative art was perceived as negative and positive art as positive within all expertise groups. However, experts liked negative art more, their valence ratings were less extreme and their aesthetic judgments particularly for negative artworks were not highly correlated with their emotional responses. Moreover, experts generally had stronger positive emotions. As a control, emotional responses to IAPS revealed no differences according to expertise. The study shows that experts base their aesthetic evaluations of art on factors beyond emotional reactions; they can discard the immediacy of emotions.

Using playing time as an implicit measure of enjoyment

Lee De-Wit, Tim Vandendriessche and Johan Wagemans

Psychology could be described as the (often creative) art of turning subjective experiences into quantifiable measures. Research in art perception and appreciation will require, at its foundation, ways of operationalizing and measuring the pleasure and enjoyment people take in interacting with a piece of art. A potentially useful and ecologically valid way of measuring pleasure or enjoyment could rely simply on the amount of time one spends looking at or interacting with a piece of art. In this talk I want to discuss the possibility of using the amount of time people engage with something as a way of assessing how enjoyable they find it. I will discuss empirical data we have collected in the context of playing simple computer games where we can easily manipulate the aesthetics of the computer display to assess the validity of 'playing time' as a useful operalization of enjoyment or pleasure.

Aesthetic evaluation of design objects at an implicit and explicit level between laypeople and experts

Stefano Mastandrea

Can the preference for industrial design objects be also achieved automatically? The aim of this study is to verify if different levels of expertise on industrial design (laypeople vs. design students) can orient the preference towards different styles of design objects (classic objects vs. modern objects), at an implicit and explicit level. Implicit and explicit preferences are often mediated by assessor features. The Implicit Association Test (IAT; Greenwald, McGhee & Schwartz, 1998) was used to assess the automaticity of the evaluation. Participants (44 laypeople and 40 design students) performed a categorization task of pictures (5 classic and 5 modern chairs) and words (5 positive and 5 negative aesthetic words). Reaction times were registered. The explicit evaluation of the stimuli was assess through a 7 points Likert scale for the adjectives beautiful, typical, familiar, complex and interesting. In both measurements, implicit and explicit preferences for classic and modern objects were moderate by expertise: experts were more aesthetically oriented towards modern objects while laypeople towards classical ones. According to the model of Processing Fluency (Reber, Schwarz e Winkielman, 2004) the more one is fluent in the processing of an object, the more positive the aesthetic evaluation will be.

The psychology of naive self-portraits: compositional biases when using the iPhone front camera

Nicola Bruno and Marco Bertamini

Studies of portraiture have revealed consistent biases in artist's compositional choices. However, the origin of these biases remains controversial, and we do not know whether similar biases would be observed when non-experts compose a portrait. We present data on the production of self-portraits by naive photographers which used the iPhone front camera to control the composition of the picture. Results documented systematic biases regarding the subject's location within the picture and his or her pose relative to the viewpoint. The mirror-reversal of the front camera display, in conjunction with variations of the camera position in portrait and landscape picture orientations, allowed us to distinguish between alternative accounts for these biases. We discuss these findings in relation to earlier studies of portraits and self-portraits by professional painters and photographers.

Koffka's Psychology of Art

Branka Spehar and Gert van Tonder

At the Bryn Mawr Symposium on Art in 1940, Koffka presented what has by now become an obscure and largely unknown aesthetic theory. Koffka's general stance is consistent with the Gestalt school's emphasis on the 'projective' or 'expressive', in contrast to the more prevalent purely sensory views of perception. Koffka realized the importance of perceptual qualities in aesthetics and discusses the role of primary, secondary and tertiary perceptual qualities in perception and aesthetic experience. A particular importance is given to the so-called physiognomic and expressive qualities of the phenomenal objects, including art. Some of these notions were later re-incarnated in Gibson's theory of affordances, but stripped of most of the characteristic Gestalt qualities. With this review, we hope to revive an awareness of Koffka's aesthetic theory, as a potential candidate to guide the scientific analysis of art toward deeper understanding of our aesthetic experience.