The science of art: A neurological theory of aesthetic experience

Journal of Consciousness Studies 6 (6-7):15-41 (1999)

Authors
William Hirstein
Elmhurst College
Abstract
We present a theory of human artistic experience and the neural mechanisms that mediate it. Any theory of art has to ideally have three components. The logic of art: whether there are universal rules or principles; The evolutionary rationale: why did these rules evolve and why do they have the form that they do; What is the brain circuitry involved? Our paper begins with a quest for artistic universals and proposes a list of ‘Eight laws of artistic experience’ -- a set of heuristics that artists either consciously or unconsciously deploy to optimally titillate the visual areas of the brain. One of these principles is a psychological phenomenon called the peak shift effect: If a rat is rewarded for discriminating a rectangle from a square, it will respond even more vigorously to a rectangle that is longer and skinnier that the prototype. We suggest that this principle explains not only caricatures, but many other aspects of art. Example: An evocative sketch of a female nude may be one which selectively accentuates those feminine form-attributes that allow one to discriminate it from a male figure; a Boucher, a Van Gogh, or a Monet may be a caricature in ‘colour space’ rather than form space. Even abstract art may employ ‘supernormal’ stimuli to excite form areas in the brain more strongly than natural stimuli. Second, we suggest that grouping is a very basic principle. The different extrastriate visual areas may have evolved specifically to extract correlations in different domains , and discovering and linking multiple features into unitary clusters -- objects -- is facilitated and reinforced by direct connections from these areas to limbic structures. In general, when object-like entities are partially discerned at any stage in the visual hierarchy, messages are sent back to earlier stages to alert them to certain locations or features in order to look for additional evidence for the object . Finally, given constraints on allocation of attentional resources, art is most appealing if it produces heightened activity in a single dimension rather than redundant activation of multiple modules. This idea may help explain the effectiveness of outline drawings and sketches, the savant syndrome in autists, and the sudden emergence of artistic talent in fronto-temporal dementia. In addition to these three basic principles we propose five others, constituting a total of ‘eight laws of aesthetic experience’
Keywords No keywords specified (fix it)
Categories (categorize this paper)
Options
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Request removal from index
Revision history

Download options

Our Archive
External links

Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
Through your library

References found in this work BETA

Some Informational Aspects of Visual Perception.Fred Attneave - 1954 - Psychological Review 61 (3):183-193.

View all 6 references / Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

Motion, Emotion and Empathy in Esthetic Experience.David Freedberg & Vittorio Gallese - 2007 - Trends in Cognitive Sciences 11 (5):197-203.
Neuroaesthetics.Anjan Chatterjee & Oshin Vartanian - 2014 - Trends in Cognitive Sciences 18 (7):370-375.
Experimental Philosophy of Aesthetics.Florian Cova, Amanda Garcia & Shen-yi Liao - 2015 - Philosophy Compass 10 (12):927-939.

View all 71 citations / Add more citations

Similar books and articles

Characterizing Aesthetic Experience.Haewan Lee - 2008 - Proceedings of the Xxii World Congress of Philosophy 1:161-167.
Exploring the Relationship Between Humor and Aesthetic Experience. Gordon - 2012 - Journal of Aesthetic Education 46 (1):111-121.
The Aesthetic Experience.Derek Matravers - 2003 - British Journal of Aesthetics 43 (2):158-174.
Anesthetic Experience.Aaron Smuts - 2005 - Philosophy and Literature 29 (1):97-113.
Disconnecting Reality.Brit Strandhagen - 2007 - The Proceedings of the Twenty-First World Congress of Philosophy 12:31-35.
The Inclusive Interpretation of Kant's Aesthetic Ideas.Samantha Matherne - 2013 - British Journal of Aesthetics 53 (1):21-39.

Analytics

Added to PP index
2014-02-14

Total views
428 ( #10,189 of 2,242,355 )

Recent downloads (6 months)
295 ( #1,163 of 2,242,355 )

How can I increase my downloads?

Downloads

My notes

Sign in to use this feature