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Label: perception

Friday 21st October 2016Art, Emotion and Neurobiology

You might remember a post from earlier this year about museum pranks, and a case of mistaken identity. A pair of ordinary eyeglasses were left on the ground near a blank wall in an art gallery, and patrons automatically assumed that they were some piece of modern conceptual artwork, even going to so far as to carefully photograph the piece.

According to a recent study by researchers at Erasmus University in Rotterdam, there's a very good reason for this hilarious misunderstanding: the way we perceive ordinary objects changes on a neurological level when we are told that they are 'art'.

Noah van Dongen, one of the researchers conducting the study at Erasmus University, explained some of the results of the study: "When we think we are not dealing with reality, our emotional response appears to be subdued on a neural level. This may be because of a tendency to 'distance' ourselves from the image, to be able to appreciate or scrutinize its shapes, colours, and composition instead of just its content. We know that our brains may have evolved with 'hard-wired' mechanisms that allow us to adjust our response to objects depending on the situation."

"What this work indicates, is that Kant's two century old theory of aesthetics, where he proposed that we need to emotionally distance ourselves from the artwork in order to be able to properly appreciate it, might have a neurological basis and that art could be useful in our quest to understand our brain, emotions, and maybe our cognition," van Dongen continued.

Interestingly enough, the study went on to explore whether or not these effects could be replicated when study participants were shown examples of still images and told that they were from either typical films or documentary films. When the images were labelled as from a documentary film, the neurological changes were reversed, indicating that the role of context in assessing our emotional reaction to imagery is more powerful than anticipated.

On reflection, though, it seems that a lot of this kind of information is already well known to critical theorists and philosophers, and that perhaps the world of neurobiology would be much better off taking a more interdisciplinary approach to problems of cognition - or at least that science students would benefit dramatically from a broader range of philosophy coursework than is currently common.

Posted on October 21st 2016 on 06:27pm
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Tuesday 27th May 2014How the Art World Creates Value

The value of art is a funny thing. The value of anything is determined by any number of factors, naturally, but as we saw with the advent of impressionist painting, value is no longer inherently about the technical skills employed in accurately representing the world around us. As in almost all other areas of the world, the art community establishes value based on a fairly random set of criteria. As we've seen lately, many of the world's most famous works command incredibly high prices, regardless of whether or not you accept the premise that the art world is experiencing a sales bubble.

Philip Hook, a leading art expert and a senior director at Sotheby's auction house, has put his finger on a number of circumstances that help create the seemingly-inflated prices that these works command. Interestingly, the majority of them tend to be related to the story behind the work itself, rather than specifically about the content or style. As we've discussed in previous posts, you can take advantage of this with some judicious self-promotion. By sharing the narrative of your artistic life, and how that intersects with and influences the rest of your life, can create a much more interesting story than the work would in a vacuum.

Consider Van Gogh: a world-renowned painter whose works command incredible prices at auction houses during the rare changes of ownership they see every few decades. But without the famous story of his anguish over his art, his depression, the self-mutilation of his ear and his eventual tragic suicide, would his work still command the respect and admiration that it does today? Perhaps, but there were a number of other artists whose work could easily be the ones revered in galleries throughout the world instead of Van Gogh.

This is not to say that you should be willing to hurt yourself or do anything permanently drastic just to make your art potentially valuable, but being aware of the power of narrative to shape the value of your work (both fiscally and perceptually) can be a very helpful tool in your artistic career. Many beginning artists are paradoxically shy about sharing the more intimate details of their lives, despite being inherently invested in expressive tendencies, and the sooner you can shake this habit, the sooner you'll be able to start taking advantage of your own ability to create works of value.

Posted on May 27th 2014 on 10:03pm
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