[ CogSci Summaries home | UP | email ]

Csikszentmihalyi, M. & Robinson R. E. (1990). The Art of Seeing: An Interpretation of the Aesthetic Encounter The J. Paul Getty Museum and The Getty Education Institute for the Arts.

  ALTauthor = 	 {Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly & Robinson, Rick. E.},
  ALTeditor = 	 {},
  title = 	 {The Art of Seeing: An Interpretation of the
  Aesthetic Encounter},
  publisher = 	 {The J. Paul Getty Museum and The Getty Education Institute for the Arts},
  year = 	 {1990},
  OPTkey = 	 {},
  OPTvolume = 	 {},
  OPTnumber = 	 {},
  OPTseries = 	 {},
  OPTaddress = 	 {},
  OPTedition = 	 {},
  OPTmonth = 	 {},
  OPTnote = 	 {},
  OPTannote = 	 {}

Author of the summary: Jim Davies, 2005, jim@jimdavies.org

Cite this paper for:


Questions this book tries to answer: [xiii] They studied museum professionals qualitatively, with interviews.

Chapter 1: A conceptual model of the Aesthetic Experience

Review of past descriptions of aesthetic experience, and frames it in terms of flow theory. Aesthetic experience should be thought of in terms of flow.[4]

"Another way to look at value involves recognizing that the essential point of existence is not established by criteria such as how much people own or how much power they weild but by the quality of their experiences. According to this view, objective standards such as money are ephemeral, because they do not directly affect how we feel; in comparison with them, experiences are real. The value of a person's life--whether it was filled with interesting and meaningful events or whether it was a sequence of featureless and pointless ones--is determined more by the sum of experiences over time than by the sum of objective possessions or achievements. By this measure, aesthetic experiences are important indeed." [1,2]

Visual illiteracy: being unaware of the range of of enjoyable experiences possible through visual stimuli.[2]

Baumgarten said that the aesthetic value of a work of art depended on its ability to produce vivid experiences in its audience. [7]

Beardsley said an aesthetic experience must have the first and one of the other four of the following themes:

These five mirror the conditions discovered in "flow experience" studies, which studied activities with few or no external rewards. In flow experiences, people do them because the experience of doing them is intrinsicly rewarding (they are autotelic). These criteria were independently discovered, supporting the notion that they were talking about the same experiences.

These criteria are not debated much. People disagree on why it's valuable or pleasurable.[10] Theories are naturalistic: aesthetic experiences are good because they are good for the audience.

The authors summarize the views on why people seek out aesthetic experiences under four categories: cognitive, perceptual, emotional, and transcendental.

Cognitive explanations [11]

The good is in apprehension of a hidden/inaccessible/unformulated intuition:
Kant: a union of intuition and understanding
Croce: expressing a formerly unformulated intuition.

Parson's five stage development

  • pictorial realism. Aesthetic value = beauty
  • representation
  • expression
  • organization
  • open-ended receptive attitude (cognitive rush theory) Arnheim, Cassirer, Csikszentmihalyi, Vasina, Winner: art satisfies a human need for knowledge and understanding. [12] The "blinding intuition" described by some is pleasurable because of the great amount of knowledge gained. It's overwhelming because it's so sudden. (summary author note: I'm reminded of Picasso saying art is "The lie that speaks the truth" or somesuch.)

    Sensory pleasure

    Some info in art shortcuts thinking and affects us because the mind is predisposed to recognize it. That is, the mind is hard-wired to experience pleasure at certain patterns. [12] The two aspects seem to be arousal and a sense of order (harkening back to Aristotle's unity in diversity notion).

    Samuels and Ewy 1985: babies as young as 3 months prefer to look at faces rated as attractive by adults.

    Explanations regarding why certain stimulus configurations are pleasing to the eye are based on evolutionary theories:
    Gestalt approach: a preference for order is conducive to a better overall adaptation ot the environment.
    Dewey 1934: recognition of organic wholeness as a model for the highest forms of organization.
    Jenkins 1958, Dissanakaye 1974: art prepares people for what is crucial for them to deal with in their real lives.

    Emotional Harmony

    Aristotle: catharsis.

    Collingwood 1938: art expresses things concepts cannot convey

    Freud 1905: art is sexually stimulating

    Eysenck 1940, 1941: Extroverts prefer simple colors, forms, and more expressive paintings.

    Knapp et al 1962: people with a high need of achievement prefer colors on the cool end of the spectrum.[15] Sensation seekers prefer red.

    In spite of all this, the findings are sometimes contradictory (ahmad 1985).

    According to Marxist and other theories, art functions to emancipate one from social boundaries. [16]

    The religious approach is that art shows us another world, possibly the true reality or a potential, better reality.

    **Anwar and Child 1972, Haritos-Fatourous and Child 1977: those with training in western traditions have different aesthetic preferences than those without.[17]

    Experimental Aesthetics focused on perception and psysiology, and it now looks too reductionistic to fully account for the aesthetic experience. [19]

    The study was semi-structured interviews.

    Chapter 2:

    Summary of dimensions of aesthetic experience, from interviews.

    The museum professionals seemed to respond in aesthetic experiences in some of four ways: perceptually, emotionally, intellectually, and communicatively. [28]

    The Perceptual Dimension

    Usually first-mentioned and best articulated.[29] For 23% this was the primary mode of response. (13/57).

    Most remarks concerned form, line, color, and surface.[30] Some also used terms like harmony, order, and balance. Beauty tended to be mentioned by those who attend to classical art, not contemporary.

    Some appreciated perceptual aspects because they had a vivid idea of what the artist's hand was doing during its creation (e.g. a violent stroke). [33]

    The Emotional Dimension

    90% of respondants reacted emotionally.[34] It was primary for nearly a quarter of them.

    The Intellectual Dimension

    95% of respondants made intellectual/cognitive references. [41]

    Several mentioned that the intellectual appreciation can get in the way of the appreciation, and/or should come after the immediate, visceral, emotinal reation. [42]

    Some try to find a "solution" to the work of art, others use the intellectual dimension to open up interpretation-- some call great works "bottomless." [45]

    The historical dimension is a sub-dimension of the intellectual. [50] Some think it should be timeless and not historically bound. Three quarters thought that understanding the historical context in which a piece was made was an obstacle to appreciation, but one worth conquering. The historical context is a means to the end of understanding a work's timeless value.

    [57] Someone mentioned how knowledge of the thought process used by the artist enhances appreciation. Another suggested that work should be timeless, and mean new things to each generation.

    The Communacitive Dimension

    The work communicates with the viewer, or the artist, through the work, communicates with the viewer.

    Communication with an era or culture [63]

    This focuses either on similarities or differences with the current time and culture.

    Three viewed it as a vehicle for stimulating the imagination.[66]

    Communication with an artist

    Communication with the viewer

    Chapter 3: A Quantitative Analysis of the Aesthetic Experience [73]

    Questionnaire results that speak to hypotheses formed from chapter 2.

    "...the structure of the aesthetic experience seems to be universal: regardless of one's background or approach to art, what matters when one faces a work of art is to use formal and emotional skills within the context of goals and feedback, to unravel the complexities of the work." [94]

    Chapter 4: Form and Quality of the Aesthetic Experience

    Comparison of flow theory model and what we've learned about aesthetic experience.

    The focus of attention was the "single most highly agreed-upon aspect of the nature of the aesthetic encounter." [119]

    Chapter 5: Facilitating the Aesthetic Experience

    How can we enhance aesthetic experience?

    Haritos-Fatouros & Child 1977: People from different cultural backgrounds respond to the same work very differently.

    Many mentioned that seeing works of art is a active process, and that laypeople have trouble because they are passive viewers. [159]

    Chapter 6: Conclusions

    Major conclusions

    aesthetic experience: an intense involvement of attention in response to a visual stimulus, for no other reason than to sustain the interaction. [178]

    Museum curators agree on the structure of the experience (the four categories) but they weight them differently. [179]

    The experience might be pleasurable because of the adaptive nature of curiosity. [183]

    "Without skills to recognize the possibilities contained in the artwork, the experience will remain shallow. [186]

    Summary author's notes:

    Back to the Cognitive Science Summaries homepage
    Cognitive Science Summaries Webmaster:
    JimDavies (jim@jimdavies.org)
    Last modified: Thu Apr 15 11:07:19 EDT 1999