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“The Science of Art”: A necessary but far from complete theory of the human artistic experience

“The Science of Art”: A necessary but far from complete theory of the human artistic experience

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An essay for the 2012 Undergraduate Awards (International Programme) Competition by Nadia Pillai. Originally submitted for Psychology of Visual Art at University of St. Andrews, with lecturer Paul Hibbard in the category of Psychology
An essay for the 2012 Undergraduate Awards (International Programme) Competition by Nadia Pillai. Originally submitted for Psychology of Visual Art at University of St. Andrews, with lecturer Paul Hibbard in the category of Psychology

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Published by: Undergraduate Awards on Aug 31, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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12/06/2013

 
 
“The Science of Art”: A necessary but far from complete theory of thehuman artistic experience
29 June 2012
 
Word count: 2368
 
 
2
Abstract:
With the convergence of the sciences and the humanities there has been a risein research trying to understand visual art and the reactions it evokes from a scientificperspective. In a crucial special edition of the Journal of Consciousness Studies (1999)several researchers debated the legitimacy of a scientific approach to the artisticexperience. Ramachandran and Hirstein (1999) initially outlined eight principles thatshould govern “The Science of Art”. This attempt to create a universal theory of aesthetic appreciation completely disregards the crux of artistic productions; that is, theindividuality of each piece, the importance of the artist’s cultural background in shapinghis work and the influence of the viewer’s personal experiences in shaping their emotional responses to artworks. This paper argues that the current standing of thescientific approach to art is more about understanding the neurological underpinnings of visual perception as it relates to complex visual scenes, rather than creating a theory of aesthetic appreciation. It is important to understand why visual art can have such apowerful impact on our emotions and sometimes even on our behaviours. In order tobring the arts and the sciences together, and expand our knowledge of humanbehaviour, the scientific model of art that we need is one that appreciates the interplayand joint effects of emotional, cognitive and physiological responses.
Keywords:
 Art, neuroaesthetics, neuroscience, culture, aesthetic preference
 
 
3
The scientific study of art is one that attempts to use precise repeatablemeasurements in an objective manner to study an area in which individuals from manydifferent cultures pour their own emotions and experiences into original creations. Thereis no doubt that relationships between science and art can exist; during theRenaissance advances made in the field of geometry taught artists how to useperspective in their works, for example by portraying close objects as bigger thandistant objects. Today, the growth of technology has inspired new forms of contemporary art that makes use of film and music. However, these relationships haveno bearing on what scientists are now attempting – a scientific
theory 
of art. Theimpetus of this area of research seems to stem from Ramachandran and Hirstein’s
TheScience of Art: A neurological theory of aesthetic experience
. In their essay the authorseffectively reduce the experience of viewing art to galvanic skin responses and the jobof the artist to creating caricatures of real life. Understanding perception in neurologicalterms is undoubtedly important, but determining laws that artists may use in order tocreate artworks that have the sole purpose of titillating the human visual system isunnecessary and far too reductionist. This essay does not argue that a scientific theoryof art is inappropriate, however it does suggest that if this area continues to ignore therole of the artist and culture in the aesthetic experience and continues to reduceaesthetical appeal to physiological arousal mechanisms then it will be inadequate inbuilding a framework from which to understand the human artistic experience.Experiencing art works, for most individuals, is a very personal journey that tapsinto ones culture and allows us to reflect on our experiences from different perspectives.Ramachandran and Hirstein (1999) present a “theory of human artistic experience andthe neural mechanisms that mediate it”. While this certainly would be a usefulphenomenon to understand it does presume that the personal accounts and lifeexperiences of individuals viewing art would be taken into account because these wouldsurely add to and change their experience with the artwork. However, asRamachandran notes in an interview “the science of art” deliberately ignores thevariations that culture imposes on art in order to create eight laws of the artisticexperience (Freeman & Ramachandran, 2001). Unfortunately, ignoring one of thelargest variables in a work of art does not create a sufficient or well-balanced theory.

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