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Finding a balance between art historical relevance and testability in the

experimental study of historical ideas

Jane Boddy (University of Vienna)


In Jugendstil thought special consideration was given to the idea that abstract lines have expressive qualities in and of themselves. A typical assertion in this context is that one can obtain a sensibility for the immediate emotional-psychological effects of pure form, provided that one sees aesthetically. At the time, it was believed that there is lawfulness to be found in the expressiveness of abstract forms and it was expected that this belief would soon be supported by experimental results. Today, technological progress has opened up many new possibilities and we can now test the general validity of nineteenth century assumptions about the expressiveness of lines. In the proposed paper, I look more closely at the possibility of making historical ideas testable, and in particular, at the challenge of finding the overlapping space where art historically relevant concepts meet with psychological validity and testability. 


Neuroscience and the Imagination

Mathew McKisack (University of Exeter)


How might philosophical accounts of the imagination – specifically the capacity to ‘visualise’, to see things ‘in the mind’s eye’ – relate to what happens in the brain when humans engage in such thought? How do the humanities’ models of the imagination, from Aristotle through Kant to Wittgenstein and Sartre, square with the findings of neuroscientific study, on issues, for example, like the relationship of imagination with perception and volition? What does it mean, moreover, to ‘square’ philosophical ideas with scientific findings? What methodological routes can be taken to avoid reductionism and disciplinary impasse on both sides? These are some of the many questions asked by the AHRC-sponsored research project ‘The Eye’s Mind - a study of the neural basis of visual imagination and its role in culture’, beginning in January 2015 at the University of Exeter. The project will, firstly, conduct a meta-analysis of the large body of research that has examined what happens in the brain when we imagine, secondly, review the history of philosophical theories of the imagination, and lastly, conduct an empirical study of those suffering ‘aphantasia’ – the reported complete lack of visual imagination. As the project’s Research Fellow charged with relating these strands I would like to present my initial findings in terms of the above questions, and gesture towards the wider aesthetic, cultural, and political implications.   



Bridging subjective and objective accounts of art experience

Ladislav Kesner (Masaryk University, Brno)


So far, both art history and theory (or Kunstgeschichte and Kunstwissenschaft) has remained largely indifferent to massive surge of experimental studies on visual art and aesthetic experience.  This may partly stem from the fact that researchers in the field of neuroaesthetics themselves by and large ignore the seminal importance of subjective reports on art experience, contained in art-historical and other humanist texts. The inability to link empirical methods to subjective accounts remains a blind spot of neuroaesthetics and will seriously limit its explanatory ambitions. Finding methods for a meaningful integration of objective and subjective data therefore remains a major desideratum for the field. The talk will introduce a research program at newly established National Institute of Mental Health in Prague aimed at addressing this explanatory gap, that is relating the dynamics of brain and dynamics of (visual art) experience. At its core is the development of methods for integrating subjective data (reports) with behavioural (eye-tracking) and both electrocortical and haemodynamic neural data. The talk will focus on theoretical and conceptual issues involved, including the question whether and how neurophenomenological approaches can be extended to the study of art experience, that is full-fledged descriptive account of qualitative aspects of experience.



Beyond Stasis and Beauty in Neuroeasthetics: Installation Art and Experimental Neuroaesthetics

Lauren Weingarden (Florida State University, Tallahassee)


This paper interrogates neuroaesthetics and its focus on traditional art forms and beauty as the conduits for aesthetic engagement. Neuroaesthetics has not explored the temporal, transformational experience encountered in contemporary Installation art. Focusing on Brazil’s Inhotim’s collection of Installation art displayed in botanical gardens, I propose experiential neuroaesthetics. Here, one alternately passes through landscaped spaces and enclosed spaces of installation pieces, each set within a unique pavilion or landscape clearing. Immersed in these works, we engage with the defamiliarization of familiar objects and spaces. Leaving the installation site, we re-enter the gardens, transformed by our internal reflections upon the ruptured aesthetic experience that each installation compels. Such reflections may register negative or positive valence. Visitors’ emotive, psychic and physiological responses provide an expanded database for future empirical research. To that end, an experiential neuroaesthetics integrates four models from the humanities and science: Affect Theory, Cognitive Poetics, Neuroscience and Appraisal Theory.



A Cognitive Approach to the Study of the Image of Christ in Renaissance Painting

Lasse Hodne (NTNU, Trondheim)


The aim of my presentation is to discuss to which degree results from psychological research on face perception can be used in the study of Renaissance portraits. Since a portrait is a face, psychological methods might be highly relevant in the study of portraits. Previous research on Renaissance portraits conducted by the author revealed a clear preference for profile and half profile view in paintings of secular persons. Almost no frontal view (en face) is found in portraits of ordinary people. However, in portraits of Christ the en face is quite common. In my presentation I want to discuss the reasons for this distinction. Using a series of portraits by the 15th century painter Hans Memling as examples, I also want to analyse Memling's differentiation between two aspects of Christ: One divine, showing his face frontally, and one human, that adopts the half profile scheme used for secular persons. Basing myself on results from behavioural tests and studies of brain activation (including those of the Symmetry in Art and Science group) I argue that the choice of "frontal" for "divine" is determined by the positive emotions that characterizes responses to the frontal view of a face.



Symmetry in Art and Science

Per Olav Folgerø (University of Bergen)


“Symmetry in Art and Science” is a cross disciplinary research project that aims to find out whether facial symmetry overrides gaze direction when we form an opinion of other peoples’ personalities.  A statistical analysis of portraits painted in Europe between the years A.D. 1400 and 1600 shows that almost no full-frontal portraits of secular persons are conserved from this period.  By contrast, it is usual to find frontal faces for the depiction of Holy Faces, paintings of Christ as God. Our survey consisted of a questionnaire in which faces were seen frontal/in half profile, and with gazes staring at the beholder or turned away from them.  The faces were evaluated according to a set of adjectival statements. Frontal faces gazing at us were regarded to be more caring, trustworthy, harmonic, inclusive, but also more authoritarian than those in half profile (conceived as more monitoring, evasive, scary, and dominant).  The half profiles gazing at us were regarded as particularly monitoring.  This will lead to the conclusion that en face with gaze contact (i.e. perfect symmetry) is more attractive than half profile with or without direct gaze. It raises the question whether the frontal Holy Face is more than a convention; are there deeper biological/evolutionary reasons for such a convention?



Emotions in Question: Affective Response to a Work of Art

Dominika Grygarová (National Institute for Mental Health, Prague)


The paper will address the recent attempts to study emotional response to art works using empirical methods, such as fMRI, EEG, GSR or fEMG. It will resume some concepts from both the existing literature, and the study elaborated by the research group within the National Institute of Mental Health in Prague. Mentioning the reward theory or neural maps of aesthetic response, we will advocate for the thesis that emotions we experience in front of a painting differ from the common emotions (both phenomenologically and according to empirical data) – but at some point they overlap as well. Compared to emotions we know from everyday life, aesthetic experience includes emotional reactions which are more subtle, refined, they do not have strong physiological output and they are not action oriented, but quite on the contrary – they tend to be oriented inwards (some paintings rated as „moving“ even activated the default mode in the brain, the network implicated with self-assessment and autobiographical memory). Researchers count for example transcendence, tenderness, tension, nostalgia, peacefulness, wonder or power among the most common „aesthetic“ emotions. Furthermore, the contribution will sketch out possible perspectives of adjoint research in affective neuroscience and art theory. It will also stress some problematic issues in experimental research design aiming at emotions, and it will then consider its possible refinements, using the framework of embodiment and neurophenomenology (Varela, Gallagher, Shapiro, Rockwell, Noë, and thus even Husserl and Merleau-Ponty).


Ovid and statistics: a case study on the complexity of narrative images

Gyöngyvér Horváth (Pázmány Péter Catholic University, Budapest)


Art history and mathematics has a long tradition of co-operation, however, this is often represented by the study of linear perspective. Statistics, not sharing with geometry the advantage of being visual, has been applied for analyzing images only a few times. The lecture I present will give an outline of a statistical survey that was carried out on more than eighty depictions of an otherwise rarely represented story of Atalanta and Hippomenes from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. The aim of the survey was twofold. First, I wanted to find out what happens to a story when it is transferred into a visual medium. The outcome shows that the story in question was often altered, and was frequently represented in a new temporal or geographical environment. Second, the survey is meant to be another death-knell for the ‘one-moment syndrome’, the idea derived from Lessing that narrative images can represent only one moment and from a single point of view. While showing the relative frequency and distribution of different narrative models in single images, the results clearly demonstrate that the 'average' pictorial solution is far more complex.



Can we measure ways of seeing? Experimental studies on the art historical eye

Raphael Rosenberg (University of Vienna)


“Ways of seeing” is the title of John Berger’s successful television series and book of 1972. But, he was neither the first nor the last to think that different ways of seeing are a pivotal problem for art history – different ways of seeing works of art and or different ways of seeing the world as the foundations for differences of styles. In the first part of the lecture I will try to sketch a history of the theories about changing ways of seeing – from the late 19th century (Theodor Frimmel, Alois Riegl, and Heinrich Wölfflin) to the rebirth of this concept since the 1970s (Michael Baxandall, Michel Foucault, Martin Jay, Jonathan Crary, Hans Belting, and Frank Büttner). In the second half I shift from historiography to cognitive sciences. I suggest how one can measure ways of seeing experimentally with eye-tracking and how such methods can now deliver a solid ground for a discussion that has been so long at the centre of art historical theory.


Red - Yellow - Blue: What do the ARTigo color tags say

about art historical periods, artists and beholders?

Sabine Scherz (LMU, Munich)


Subject of my project are the tags of the browser game ARTigo (www.artigo.org). When playing this game, players assign key words to art historical depictions, which is called ¨tagging¨. All tags are stored in a database. The target of this game is to receive these tags in order to search for image data with words. For this reason, there is a search function already included in the GUI of the game. In order to exclude that a player enters nonsense, taggings of two players playing simultaneously have to match. The focus of my investigation is the large number of color tags entered by the players into the database. I discuss the question of differences in the amount and type of color tags regarding artists and periods and what this reveals about the players who first perceived and second tagged the color of an image.



A Georgraphical Information System (GIS) for the Study of the Muqarnas

in the Mediterranean Framework during the late Middle Ages

María Marcos Cobaleda (Univerity of Granada)


The use of muqarnas is known since the 9th century in the Eastern Islamic art, but their spread through the Mediterranean was a reality during the late Middle Ages. Their interest lies both in their ornamental characteristics and in their symbolic values, linked to the Sunni revival of the 12th century. In the Western Islamic art, the role of the Almoravids was essential for their spread to al-Andalus and other Mediterranean territories. They created an own aesthetic strongly related to religious meaning, that they used with a specific political significance to differentiate themselves from the Almohads. In this paper we analyze both premises: the symbolic values of the muqarnas and the real impact of the Almoravid art in the Mediterranean, through their spread. We have assessed the Almoravid influence thanks to the application of the Geographical Information Systems (GIS) to the Art History analysis, which allows us to create a geodatabase to show in a numerical way the results of our research. We present as well several maps of the Mediterranean area where our results are shown in a graphical way, and some initial conclusions about the application of the GIS to the Art History.



Peeking into Paradise. Conventions of Viewing a Cranach Painting

Hanna Brinkmann (University of Vienna)


Cranach’s “Paradise” which is located at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna is a painting with a polychronic narration, showing different scenes within the same work of art.  This talk investigates how knowledge about the biblical story and familiarity with specific cultural conventions of depicting these scenes, influence the perception of the painting. Art perception is determined by the artwork itself, the context where it is shown and of course it is determined by the conditions of the viewers. Especially when it comes to art, we cannot universalize across time and space. Mainly art-historians have argued that art-perception is in fact historically and culturally specific. Assuming that the major elements of art-perception are eye movements plus cognitive and emotional reactions to the artwork, the central part of this project is a cross-cultural eye-tracking-study comparing Japanese and Austrian participants of similar age, gender, education and expertise. Additionally, information about their personal reflections and feelings about the presented artwork was collected. First results of this study will be presented and put up for discussion.



Aesthetic Echoes in the Eye? Perceptual Responses to Image Qualities

Laura Commare (University of Vienna)


Paintings have different affective characteristics, such as dynamism and activity, which affect our art experience. Art experience evolves on different levels: in the physical process of seeing and in the resulting cognitive and emotional reactions to the artwork. The perception of affective qualities implies an assessment and classification of the artwork. It is thus part of the cognitive or emotional reactions to the painting. Nevertheless, art historians like Ulf Küster or Gottfried Boehm state that some artworks also trigger a reflection of affective characteristics in the beholder’s gaze. Action paintings for example are assumed to enforce action viewing. They argue that the impression of action is so strong in these paintings that one cannot simply view these artworks without being forced to react physically to them. However, to date it has not been addressed empirically if and how perceivable image characteristics affect the visual exploration of a painting. Is there really a need for action viewing in the experience of action paintings? Our eye tracking study aims to close this gap in research and investigates whether there is a kind of qualitative equation of affective image qualities and visual perception.


Blenden und Posen (Artistic Work)

Carolin Kallert (Frankfurt)


A large collection of women posing in diverse times and contexts forms the basis of my artistic work, wich deals with the nature of observation and effect.  Looking for the 'ultimate pose' I translated a number of poses into line drawings. Five of these were then selected for the purposes of an eye-tracking study. The transformation of a figure, for example, in a painting to a figure in a line drawing is done primarily with the objective of making the pose more visible and "comparable". It is thus always a fascinating process, to see what still remains of the original, what can be transformed or left out and how elements can or should be brought to the fore. In that respect, a drawing has other avenues of expression to those of a painting. Based on the heat map and numbered gaze sequences, I developed life-size images of women that show the outcomes of technical investigations, which additionally become independent visual works through the use of high-quality materials. Since my drawings were the subject of the eye-tracking study, a further question I had, was how the results obtained would differ from the original. My next stage was to design a screen ("Blende"), a cut-out of the particular shape of the heat map, for each original based on the heat map of cognitive studies. Since the screen is located in front of the original, the materiality and the cut-out shape of the heat map is given an intriguing new space. It also points to the horizon of experience, inherent in the viewing of the subject. The investigation identified five similar forms of heat maps that are reminiscent of archetypal representations of Venus. Only depictions of women were observed. It would however be interesting, in a further step, to find out to what extent similar heat maps might arise when watching men pose. It is also in this context that my work involves an associative approach in which I feel my way forward in search of analogies. Trying in with my presentation of the figures in their original state, I wish to investigate them further as well as and their associated supplements, which were omitted in the line drawing. It could be that it is precisely the aspects that are so significant for the appearance and effect of the pose.


Videotracking as Instrument for systematic research in the installation

Timescape (51° 13.66 north, 6° 46.523 east) from Ursula Damm

Nicole Vennemann (University of Cologne)


This contribution examines the question of how the performance art is able to form empirical methods. The focus in particular is the interactive installation as an testing facility, which makes it possible to take over subcomponents from science in the form of systematic procedures for implementing them into the artistic field which then leads to a development of context-specific methods. To illustrate this the work of the artist Ursula Damm will be represented as what she like to understand as a supplementary contribution to research. Within the interactive installation Timescape (51° 13.66 north, 6° 46.523 east) the videotracking system serves as an recording instrument for the passersby in a certain space to reflect upon new forms of urban architecture. Timescape is exemplary for a method within the performance art, which resides between control and contingency due the fact that the artist includes the recipient in the research. This way the passersby become receiving test persons, who firstly are embedded within the installation and secondly valuate the carried-out action as recipients.


Myth, History and Memory 2.0 /0.1 (Artistic Work)

Tsila Hassine (Shenkar College of Engineering and Desing)


The boundaries between myth history and have been blurred ever since the advent of "history". Developments in media technologies recharge this discussion, maintaining its relevance throughout the generations. The Internet era dramatizes familiar questions related to the power of memory vis-à-vis the power of history, updating them with political insight. In historically and politically charged Jerusalem, the installation “Myth, History and Memory 2.0/0.1” uses an empirical approach to reflect how different narratives are inscribed in the collective consciousness of different cultures. These differences are reflected in the numbers of results indexed by the search engines. What do these numbers signify? Do they signify historic validity? Do they testify to the historical significance of each given personality?  In fact, these numbers index the current "popularity" of historical figures from hundreds and thousands years ago. Thus, this deceptively “simple” approach draws our attention to the possibility of quantifying the complex construction of history, memory and historiography by employing our contemporary engine-agents of knowledge.


An appraisal of the art-making experience

Ariana van Heerden (Tshwane University of Technology, Pretoria)


The fundamental question in the study of art making is the subjective experience and objective measures thereof.  Objectivity and subjectivity is often as a result of the exclusive use of either quantitative or qualitative measures of inquiry. In studies on art making, it is reasonable to suggest that, due to many complex layers of processing, artists may intellectualise or censor their response between the lived experience and a verbal report. Equally, over-reliance on direct quantitative methods to measure emotional reactions of experiences could skew research findings, especially when, in order to avoid the production of artefacts in the data, studies on art and art making are conducted in laboratory or clinical settings, and very seldom whilst the artist is in the act of making art. Such circumstances do not offer a true reflection of the art-making experience. The premise of this paper is that neither qualitative nor quantitative research paradigms need to be mutually exclusive, and that a multimethod approach is needed to make the art-making experience more understandable. Data-collection methods for this study included semi-structured interviews (pre- and post-experiment), electroencephalogram (EEG) and observation. The rationale for conducting the study was to establish whether associations could be found between the artists’ perceptions of the art-making experience and the empirical data. The focus of this presentation is to explain the data-collection methods employed, inclusive of how patterns, leading on to themes, were observed in the data, rather than relying on statistical inferences. The uniqueness of this study is that it was conducted in a natural setting (artists’ studios), incorporating their perceptions (before and after experiments); in addition EEG was used in ‘real time’ (whilst artists were in the act of making art). The multimethods approach employed suggests a balanced way to appraise the art-making experience.







Art & Science

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