Technological Effects on Aesthetic Evaluation: Vermeer and the Camera Obscura

By Hantula, Donald A.; Sudduth, Mary Margaret et al. | The Psychological Record, Summer 2009 | Go to article overview
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Technological Effects on Aesthetic Evaluation: Vermeer and the Camera Obscura


Hantula, Donald A., Sudduth, Mary Margaret, Clabaugh, Alison, The Psychological Record


The painter stood Before her work She looked around everywhere She saw the pictures and she painted them She picked the colors from the air "Painter," Neil Young (2005)

Aesthetics, an appreciation of the beautiful and the sublime, is used to evaluate technology (Norman, 2004) and behavioral interventions (Hineline, 2005), but technology's role in creating beauty is less explored. With the ready availability of technology that can be used in aesthetic creation, such as a digital camera to take photographs, a computer program to create graphic art, or a synthesizer to compose music, the role of technology as a contextual factor in the evaluation of art deserves further scrutiny. Art criticism has moved away from considering only the technical and aesthetic qualities of a work to explicit assessments of its social and contextual implications, including the means used to create art (Dickie, 1997; Shusterman, 1997). However, aesthetic assessment from the perspective of the art viewer may be less concerned with contextual criticism and more concerned with an experience of beauty. Aesthetics is rarely investigated in psychology (Averill, Stanat, & More, 1998), and most psychological studies that have considered aesthetics have focused on the underlying cognitive and perceptual processes involved in art appreciation (e.g., Russell, 2003).

The way in which technology use affects people psychologically has been of interest to social scientists for more than a century (Stern, Alderfer, & Cienkowski, 1998). Technology can be defined as "all means by which people increase their own or others' capabilities" (Kipnis, 1991, p. 62) or any human modification of the natural world (Tenner, 2003). Advocates of technology assert that it provides people with an ability to do things that they could not have done before (Stern, Mullennix, Dyson, & Wilson, 1999) and that some forms of technology have improved many aspects of people's lives. However, technology might not always lead to positive outcomes. For example, employing behavioral technology in the treatment of psychopathology has been shown to influence patients' behavior in unwanted and unpredicted ways (Kipnis, 1987) and to alter their acceptance of treatment (Hineline, 2005). Jobs are often technologized for the sake of efficiency; however, this use of technology can result in deskilling. Degradation of craftsmanship occurs when knowledge of the work process lies only within management, leaving the employees to function only as a tool (Braverman, 1974). Indeed, employees using automated technology often report a sense of dissatisfaction and alienation in the workplace (Hackman & Oldham, 1980; Shaiken, 1985). Using technology that requires little skill is related to diminished self-confidence and loss of enjoyment in everyday activities (Stern & Kipnis, 1993). Further, use of technology also affects other people's perceptions of technology users. For example, workers operating automated technology are not given much praise for success, nor are they given much responsibility for failures by supervisors (Stern, 1999). Whereas Braverman views technology as the ruin of craftsmanship and job satisfaction, Stern et al. (1998) suggest that too little technology might not be desirable either. Instead, there may be an optimal level of technology that enhances a job while still requiring and allowing a certain level of skill. The extent to which the effects of technology are generalizable may indicate how findings from research on job satisfaction and psychotherapy also apply to aesthetic evaluation, or whether use of technology by an artist influences people's evaluation of the art.

Art historians have long suspected that the Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675) used the camera obscura when painting. The camera obscura, forerunner of the modern camera, is a device made from convex lenses that projects an image onto a screen, allowing an artist to trace the outline of an object or scene, rather than draw it "from scratch.

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