Mastering Style - Effects of Explicit Style-Related Information, Art Knowledge and Affective State on Appreciation of Abstract Paintings

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Abstract

Recently, Leder, Belke, Oeberst, and Augustin (2004) have proposed a model of aesthetic experience in which stylistic processing is central for aesthetic experiences of art. Here we present an empirical study which investigates predictions derived from the model. Using modern and contemporary abstract paintings we investigated how their appreciation is affected by style information generalized onto new exemplars of paintings by the same artists. In accordance with the model's predictions, effects of style processing depend on the affective states of the viewers as well as their ability for cognitive mastery, measured by amount of expertise. The experiment reveals that the examination of style-related cognitive processes is important to psychologically understand the affective, cognitive and presumably selfrewarding aspects of aesthetic experiences.

Key words: art perception, model of aesthetic experience, art expertise, mood

Mastering style. Effects of explicit style-related information, art knowledge and affective state on appreciation of abstract paintings

Art is found in all human cultures. Although not apparently functional in terms of biological adaptation on the first sight the production and reception of art must have some features which produce positive and rewarding experiences and which therefore explain its ubiquity. In order to understand which specific mechanisms are involved in the aesthetic appreciation of art, we have recently proposed a cognitive processing model of aesthetic experiences (Leder, Belke, Oeberst, & Augustin, 2004). The model describes five processing stages that are involved in an aesthetic processing experience (Perceptual Analyses, Implicit Memory Integration, Explicit Classification, Cognitive Mastering and Evaluation). Moreover the role of influencing variables such as art experience and expertise as well as initial affective state were discussed.

The earliest stages of information processing (of visual arts) are concerned with perceptual analysis of the canvas. At this stage variables of interest include for example complexity, contrast and grouping, for which a majority of contributions of empirical aesthetics are concerned with. In the stage of implicit processing the results of the perceptual analyses are set in relation to analyses that result directly from previous experience. Most important prototypicality and familiarity contribute to processing at this stage. The processing stage called Explicit Classification provides explicit representations of either depictive content or explicit style information of the artwork. Which of the two aspects becomes more central depends on and a) the amount of beholders's art expertise b) the nature of the artwork. For artexperienced viewers a type of style-related processing seems to be representative while for art naïve persons a content-related processing is rather typical (Cupchik & Laszlo, 1992). This distinction refers to search of meaning in visual art and proposes that with increasing art experience the focus on "what is depicted" shifts towards the aspect on "how it is depicted". Thus, art expertise and art experience might moderate processing at this stage. In the case of abstract art, style is believed to generally take on the role of content.

The processing stages just described are followed by cognitive evaluations, consisting of self-related and art-specific analyses, which are triggered and processed in feedback loops until a satisfactory "aesthetic concept" about the aesthetic object is generated. The evaluation phase may lead to further information processing if the state of understanding is unsatisfying or too ambiguous (Cupchik, 1992).

Central to the model is the assumption that subjective "success" in processing art (during the five processing-stages) is thought to be self-rewarding, raises aesthetic pleasure and might also increase aesthetic evaluation. For example, the experience to dissolve perceptual or conceptual ambiguity is assumed to influence the continuous affective evaluation of an artwork positively and can also result in an increase in appreciation of the artwork. …