The artful mind meets art history: Toward a psycho-historical framework for the science of art appreciation

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  • The artful mind meets art history:Toward a psycho-historicalframework for the scienceof art appreciation

    Nicolas J. BullotARC Centre of Excellence in Cognition and its Disorders, Department of

    Cognitive Science, Macquarie University, New South Wales 2109, Australianicolas.bullot@mq.edu.auhttp://www.maccs.mq.edu.au/members/prole.html?memberID=521

    Rolf ReberDepartment of Education, University of Bergen, Postboks 7807, N-5020Bergen, Norway

    rolf.reber@psysp.uib.nohttp://www.uib.no/persons/Rolf.Reber#publikasjoner

    Abstract: Research seeking a scientic foundation for the theory of art appreciation has raised controversies at the intersection ofthe social and cognitive sciences. Though equally relevant to a scientic inquiry into art appreciation, psychological and historicalapproaches to art developed independently and lack a common core of theoretical principles. Historicists argue that psychologicaland brain sciences ignore the fact that artworks are artifacts produced and appreciated in the context of unique historical situationsand artistic intentions. After revealing aws in the psychological approach, we introduce a psycho-historical framework for thescience of art appreciation. This framework demonstrates that a science of art appreciation must investigate how appreciatorsprocess causal and historical information to classify and explain their psychological responses to art. Expanding on research aboutthe cognition of artifacts, we identify three modes of appreciation: basic exposure to an artwork, the artistic design stance, andartistic understanding. The artistic design stance, a requisite for artistic understanding, is an attitude whereby appreciators developtheir sensitivity to art-historical contexts by means of inquiries into the making, authorship, and functions of artworks. We defendand illustrate the psycho-historical framework with an analysis of existing studies on art appreciation in empirical aesthetics.Finally, we argue that the uency theory of aesthetic pleasure can be amended to meet the requirements of the framework. Weconclude that scientists can tackle fundamental questions about the nature and appreciation of art within the psycho-historicalframework.

    Keywords: art appreciation; causal reasoning; cognition of artifacts; cognitive tracking; design stance; essentialism; function; history ofart; mindreading; processing uency; psycho-historical framework

    Does the study of the minds inner life provide a theoreti-cal foundation for a science of art? Scientists in empiricalaesthetics and neuroaesthetics think so. They adhere towhat we, along with Pickford (1972), call the psychologi-cal approach to art, which uses methods of psychologyand neuroscience to study art and its appreciation.Because of its focus on the minds processes and thebrains internal structures, psychological research oftenignores the historical approach to art, which focuses onthe role of historical contexts in the making and appreci-ation of works of art. The psychological and historicalapproaches have developed conicting research pro-grams in the study of art appreciation and of art ingeneral. They offer diverging accounts of the degree towhich historical knowledge is involved in art appreciation.After introducing the debate between these two tra-ditions, we propose in sections 2 and 3 a psycho-historical

    framework that unies psychological and historical inqui-ries into art appreciation. We argue that art-historicalcontexts, which encompass historical events, artistsactions, and mental processes, leave causal informationin each work of art. The processing of this informationby human appreciators1 includes at least three distinctmodes of art appreciation: basic exposure of appreciatorsto the work; causal reasoning resulting from an artisticdesign stance; and artistic understanding of the workbased on knowledge of the art-historical context. Insection 4, we demonstrate that empirical researchwithin the framework is feasible. Finally, we describe insection 5 how an existing psychological theory, the pro-cessing-uency theory of aesthetic pleasure, can be com-bined with the psycho-historical framework to examine howappreciation depends on context-specic manipulations ofuency.

    BEHAVIORAL AND BRAIN SCIENCES (2013) 36, 123180doi:10.1017/S0140525X12000489

    Cambridge University Press 2013 0140-525X/13 $40.00 123

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