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Motion, Emotion and Empathy in Aesthetic Experience [D. Freedberg and V. Gallese]



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Motion, emotion and empathy in
esthetic experience
David Freedberg
and Vittorio Gallese
Department of Art History and Archeology, Columbia University, 826 Schermerhorn Hall, 1190 Amsterdam Avenue,
New York 10027, USA
Department of Neuroscience, University of Parma, Via Volturno 39, I-43100 Parma, Italy
The implications of the discovery of mirroring
mechanisms and embodied simulation for empathetic
responses to images in general, and to works of visual
art in particular, have not yet been assessed. Here, we
address this issue and we challenge the primacy of
cognition in responses to art. We propose that a crucial
element of esthetic response consists of the activation of
embodied mechanisms encompassing the simulation of
actions, emotions and corporeal sensation, and that
these mechanisms are universal. This basic level of
reaction to images is essential to understanding the
effectiveness both of everyday images and of works of
art. Historical, cultural and other contextual factors do
not preclude the importance of considering the neural
processes that arise in the empathetic understanding of
visual artworks.
‘The painting will move the soul of the beholder when
the people painted there each clearly shows the
movement of his own soul...we weep with the weep-
ing, laugh with the laughing, and grieve with the
grieving. These movements of the soul are known
from the movements of the body.’ ([1], p. 80).
Although no consensus has been reached on how to
define art, the problem of the nature of art (however so
defined) has attracted the interest of cognitive neuroscien-
tists who opened a field of research named ‘neuroesthetics’
[2,3]. Other attempts have been made to derive invariant
universal perceptual rules to explain what art is, and what
esthetic pleasures we derive from it, on the basis of psy-
chophysical and neurocognitive knowledge of the visual
part of the brain (see, for example, Refs [2,4–8]).
Here, we pursue a different strategy. First, we ‘bracket’
the artistic dimension of visual works of art and focus on
the embodied phenomena that are induced in the course of
contemplating such works by virtue of their visual content.
We illustrate the neural mechanisms that underpin the
empathetic ‘power of images’ [9] and show that embodied
simulation and the empathetic feelings it generates has a
crucial role (Box 1). Second, we address within the same
empathetic framework one aspect of the effects of works
of art, namely the felt effect of particular gestures involved
in producing them.
Most spectators of works of art are familiar with feelings
of empathetic engagement with what they see in the work
itself. These feelings might consist of the empathetic
understanding of the emotions of represented others or,
most strikingly, of a sense of inward imitation of the
observed actions of others in pictures and sculptures.
These observations raise two questions: how relevant is
empathy to esthetic experience, and what are the neural
mechanisms involved?
Empathy in esthetic experience
We begin with examples of the ways in which viewers of
works of art report bodily empathy. For instance, in
the case of Michelangelo’s Prisoners, responses often take
the form of a felt activation of the muscles that appear to be
activated within the sculpture itself, as if in perfect con-
sonance with Michelangelo’s intention of showing his
figures struggle to free themselves from their material
matrix (Figure 1). In looking at scenes from Goya’s Desas-
tres de la Guerra, bodily empathy arises not only in
responses to the many unbalanced figures, where viewers
seem to have similar feelings of unbalance themselves, but
also in the case of the frequently horrific representations of
lacerated and punctured flesh (e.g. Figure 2). In such
instances, the physical responses seem to be located in
precisely those parts of the body that are threatened,
pressured, constrained or destabilized. Furthermore,
physical empathy easily transmutes into a feeling of empa-
thy for the emotional consequences of the ways in which
the body is damaged or mutilated. Even when the image
contains no overt emotional component, a sense of bodily
resonance can arise. These are all instances in which
beholders might find themselves automatically simulating
the emotional expression, the movement or even the
implied movement within the representation.
Simulation occurs not only in response to figurative
works but also in response to the experience of architec-
tural forms, such as a twisted Romanesque column [10].
With abstract paintings such as those by Jackson Pollock
(Figure 3a), viewers often experience a sense of bodily
involvement with the movements that are implied by
the physical traces in brushmarks or paint drippings
of the creative actions of the producer of the work. This also
applies to the cut canvases of Lucio Fontana (Figure 3b),
where sight of the slashed painting invites a sense of
empathetic movement that seems to coincide with the
gesture felt to have produced the tear.
TRENDS in Cognitive Sciences Vol.11 No.5
Corresponding author: Gallese, V. (
Available online 7 March 2007. 1364-6613/$ see front matter ß 2007 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved. doi:10.1016/j.tics.2007.02.003
During the second half of the 19th century, several
German scholars writing on the visual arts set out their
views on the felt bodily engagement of the spectator in her
or his responses to paintings, sculpture and architecture
[11,12] (Box 2). In the work of Maurice Merleau-Ponty [13],
much attention was paid to the esthetic consequences
of the sense of physical involvement that paintings or
sculptures arouse. He also suggested the possibilities of
felt bodily imitation of the implied actions of the artist, as
in the case of the paintings of Ce
zanne. David Rosand has
devoted attention to the sense of empathetic engagement
with the actions of implied hand movements in drawings
by artists from Leonardo through to Tiepolo and Piranesi
[14]. Although these theories were often respected, the
phenomenological position has not found much traction
in the field of art history.
Most 20th century art history and art criticism
neglected the evidence for emotional responses and privi-
leged a fully cognitive and disembodied approach to
Box 1. Mirror neurons and embodied simulation
The discovery of mirror neurons in macaques and of related
mirroring mechanisms in the human brain [15], together with the
new emphasis on the relevance of emotional processes for social
perception, have changed our understanding of the neural basis of
social cognition. Neuroscientific research has shed light on the ways
in which we empathize with others [15,39,44,51,52] by emphasizing
the role of implicit models of others’ behaviors and experiences
that is, embodied simulation [42,43]. Our capacity to pre-rationally
make sense of the actions, emotions and sensations of others
depends on embodied simulation, a functional mechanism through
which the actions, emotions or sensations we see activate our own
internal representations of the body states that are associated with
these social stimuli, as if [39] we were engaged in a similar action or
experiencing a similar emotion or sensation. Activation of the same
brain region during first- and third-person experience of actions,
emotions and sensations suggests that, as well as explicit cognitive
evaluation of social stimuli, there is probably a phylogenetically
older mechanism that enables direct experiential understanding of
objects and the inner world of others.
Figure 1. Embodied simulation in esthetic experience: actions. The sense of
exertion, which Michelangelo intended his figures to show as they struggle to
escape from the block of stone, is effectively conveyed to the spectator.
Michelangelo, Slave called Atlas, Florence, Academia (ca. 1520–1523), marble
ß Scala/Art Resource, NY.
Figure 2. Embodied simulation in esthetic experience: empathy for pain. The
viewing of images of punctured or damaged body parts activates part of the same
network of brain centers that are normally activated by our own sensation of pain,
accounting for the feeling of physical sensation and corresponding shock upon
observation of pressure or damage to the skin and limbs of others. Goya, Que hay
que hacer mas? (What more is there to do?), plate 33 from Los Desastres de la
Guerra (Disasters of War), etching, Biblioteque Nationale, Paris, France
ß Bridgeman-Giraudon/Art Resource, NY.
Box 2. Empathy and esthetics
Although 18th century writers from DuBos onwards (including
Hume, Burke, Adam Smith and Herder) commented on the inward
imitation of the feelings and actions of others [53], the importance of
empathy for esthetics was first emphasized by Robert Vischer in
1873 [54].ByEinfu
hlung, literally ‘feeling-in’, Vischer meant the
physical responses that are generated by the observation of
paintings. He described how particular forms aroused particular
responsive feelings, depending on their conformity to the design
and function of the muscles of the body. Developing Vischer’s ideas,
lfflin [55] set out his views on how observation of specific
architectural forms engage the beholders’ bodily responses. From
1893 onwards, Ab y Warburg wrote of the Pathosformel [56],
whereby the outward forms of movement in a work revealed the
inner emotions of the figure concerned. At almost the same time,
Bernard Berenson [57] outlined his views on how observation of the
movements shown in Renaissance works of art enhanced the
beholders’ sense of the capacities of the comparable muscles within
their bodies. Berenson’s notion of ‘tactile values’ also prefigures
aspects of current empathy theory. Theod or Lipps was also
developing his views of the relationship between esthetic enjoy-
ment on the one hand and bodily engagement with space on the
other, in architecture as well as in the other arts [10].
All these writers believed that the feeling of physical involvement
in artworks not only provoked a sense of imitating the motion seen
or implied in the work, but also enhanced the spectator’s emotional
responses to it.
TRENDS in Cognitive Sciences Vol.11 No.5
esthetics (Box 3), on the grounds that the emotions are
largely contextual and incapable of classification. Indeed,
the considerable neuroscientific evidence clarifying the
nature of empathy and the role of sensorimotor activity
in empathy and emotion has been completely overlooked in
current writing about art and its history. Our purpose is to
fill this gap by proposing a theory of empathetic responses
to works of art that is not purely introspective, intuitive or
metaphysical but has a precise and definable material
basis in the brain. Although the evidence we consider
enables modulation by a wide variety of contextual factors
(historical, social, cultural or even personal), here we are
concerned with the basic mechanisms that have been
brought to the fore by recent research on mirror and
canonical neurons, and the neural underpinnings of empa-
thy and embodiment.
We concentrate on two components of esthetic
experience that are involved in contemplating visual works
of art (as well as other images that do not necessarily fall
into this category): (i) the relationship between embodied
empathetic feelings in the observer and the representa-
tional content of the works in terms of the actions, inten-
tions, objects, emotions and sensations depicted in a given
painting or sculpture; and (ii) the relationship between
embodied empathetic feelings in the observer and the
quality of the work in terms of the visible traces of the
artist’s creative gestures, such as vigorous modeling in clay
or paint, fast brushwork and signs of the movement of the
hand more generally. Both components are always pre-
sent, although in different proportions. In non-figurative
modern and contemporary art, the relationship between
embodied empathetic feelings in the observer and the
quality of the work forms a substantial part of the experi-
ence of the artwork.
Embodied simulation in esthetic experience:
actions and intentions
The discovery of mirror neurons illuminates the neural
underpinnings of the frequent but hitherto unexplained
feeling of physical reaction, often in apparent imitation of
the actions represented within a work of art or suggested
by the implied movements involved in its making; mirror
neurons also offer the possibility of a clearer understand-
ing of the relationship between responses to the perception
of movement within paintings, sculpture and architecture
(and not just in their anthropomorphic or figurative modes)
and the emotions such works provoke. For the sake of
clarity and concision, we will treat the observation of
actions, intentions and objects separately from emotions
and sensations. These domains, far from being indepen-
dent, are intimately intertwined in many ways and by
means of mechanisms we are just beginning to investigate.
We start with the observation of actions.
As the discovery of mirror neurons in the premotor and
posterior parietal cortices of macaques made clear
(Figure 4a), the same neurons discharge when an action
Figure 3. Embodied simulation in esthetic experience: implied gestures of the artist. The gestures that are only implicit in the marks on these works of art are corporeally felt
by their spectators. (a) Jackson Pollock, Number 14: Gray (1948), enamel over gesso on paper, Yale University Gallery, The Katharine Ordway Collection ß 2004 The Pollock-
Krasner Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. (b) Lucio Fontana, Concetto Spaziale Atteza’ (Waiting’) (1960), canvas, Tate Gallery, London ß Tate Gallery,
London/Art Resource, NY/ Fondazione Lucio Fontana, Milano.
Box 3. 20th century views
E.H. Gombrich’s Art and Illusion of 1960 was devoted to ‘the
psychology of pictorial representation’. Yet practically noth ing in it
was devoted to emotional and empathetic responses to art. By this
time, the emotions had entirely dropped out of the field of esthetics.
This position was canonized by R.H. Collingwood’s The Principles of
Art (1938). Following Kant, Collingwood believed that art should be
separated from the emotional and from the realm of physical and
spontaneous responses. Art came to be thought of as a matter of
pure cognition. Nelson Goodman emphasized that ‘in esthetic
experience the emotions function cognitively’ [58]. Clement Green-
berg was devoted to the cognitive assessment of the perception of
the picture plane. In its insistence on purely historical, cultural and
social factors in responses to art, the ‘new art history’ of the 1970s
remained intensely resistant to approaches that suggested the
possibility of precognitive levels of response [59]. Th is elimination
of the emotional, the empathetic and the realm of non-cognitive
corporeal response remained typical for most of the 20th century.
TRENDS in Cognitive Sciences Vol.11 No.5 199
is observed as when it is executed [15]. Later, it was shown
that a mirror neuron system (MNS) also exists in the
human ventral premotor cortex (encompassing Brod-
mann’s area 44) and posterior parietal cortex. When the
MNS is activated, the observation of an action in particu-
lar, a goal-oriented action leads to the activation of the
same neural networks that are active during its execution.
This in itself suggests a possible account for the frequent
feelings of empathetic involvement with movements in
works of art.
Mirror neurons have now also been shown to respond to
actions that are implied where, for example, their final
stage is occluded [16]. Thus, they enable the understanding
of the action of others by means of embodied simulation, by
activating the motor representation of the same action,
even when its conclusion is only implied.
The MNS for actions in humans is somatotopically
organized, with distinct cortical regions within the pre-
motor and posterior parietal cortices activated both by the
observation and by the execution of mouth, hand and
foot actions (Figure 4b). It has also been shown that the
MNS in humans is directly involved in the perception of
communicative facial actions, in the imitation of simple
movements and in the learning of complex motor acts even
when not previously practiced (reviewed in Refs [15,17]).
Recent studies in macaques [18] and humans [19] demon-
strated that mirror neurons not only underpin action
understanding, but they are also involved in understand-
ing the intentions that underlie action.
Research on the human MNS has shown that the
observation even of static images of actions leads to action
simulation in the brain of the observer. The observation of
pictures of a hand reaching to grasp an object [20] or firmly
grasping it [21] activates the motor representation
of grasping in the observer’s brain. Furthermore, Calvo-
Merino et al. [22] showed that repetitive transcranial
magnetic stimulation over the ventral premotor cortex,
but not over the visual extrastriate body area, disrupts
the capacity to perceive still figures of dancing bodies as
visual wholes, thus suggesting that activity in the MNS is
crucially involved in the global processing of bodies.
On the basis of these results, it stands to reason that a
similar motor simulation process can be induced by the
observation of still images of actions in works of art. It is
not surprising that felt physical responses to works of art
are so often located in the part of the body that is shown to
be engaged in purposive physical actions, and that one
might feel that one is copying the gestures and movements
of the image one sees even in cases where the action
seems to serve as the outlet for an emotional response (as
with scenes of mourning and lamentation, for example).
But what happens in the case of observation of static
Embodied simulation in esthetic experience: objects
The discovery of ‘canonical neurons’ in the macaque
premotor cortex [17,23] and the discovery of parietal
neurons with similar properties [24,25] showed that the
observation of static graspable objects activates not only
visual areas of the brain but also motor areas that control
object-related actions such as grasping. The observation of
a graspable object leads to the simulation of the motor act
that the object affords. This implies that the same neuron
not only codes the execution of motor acts but also responds
to the visual features that trigger them, even in the
absence of overt movement.
In congruence with the data on canonical neurons in
macaques, brain imaging experiments in humans have
shown that observation of manipulable objects like tools,
fruits, vegetables, clothes [26–31] and even sexual organs
[32] leads to the activation of the ventral premotor cortex, a
cortical region that is normally considered to be involved in
the control of action and not in the representation of
objects. Furthermore, an fMRI study of visual occlusion
[33] shows a systematic activation of the ventral premotor
cortex during the observation of occluded objects, thus
suggesting the crucial role of motor simulation in estab-
lishing object permanence.
The particular intentional interactions that objects
specify that is, how they are supposed to be manipulated
and used make up a substantial part of their representa-
tional content, whether they are man-made or not
Figure 4. The mirror neuron system in monkeys and humans. (a) Activation of the
area F5 mirror neuron during motor-act observation. (b) Activation of the area F5
mirror neuron during action execution. For both conditions, six consecutive rasters
(spike recordings) during six consecutive trials are shown. The arrows indicate the
onset of observed and executed grasping. (a) and (b) modified, with permission,
from Ref. [60]. (c) Somatotopy of premotor and parietal cortices as revealed by
fMRI during action observation. Activation foci are projected on the lateral surface
of a standard brain (MNI). Red, activation during the observation of mouth
grasping; green, activation during the observation of hand grasping; blue,
activation during the observation of foot kicking. Overlap of colors indicates
activation foci present during observation of actions made by different effectors.
(c) modified, with permission, from Ref. [61].
TRENDS in Cognitive Sciences Vol.11 No.5
and however different they might be. This is why the
perception of these objects leads to the activation of motor
regions of the brain that control our interactions with the
same objects. Static 3D objects are identified and
represented also to the effect of their interaction with an
observer that is simultaneously a potential emotional
agent. This mechanism of motor simulation, coupled with
the emotional resonance it triggers, as suggested by Lipps
[10], is likely to be a crucial component of the esthetic
experience of objects in art works: even a still-life can be
‘animated’ by the embodied simulation it evokes in the
observer’s brain. The role of embodied simulation in
esthetic experience becomes even more evident if one
considers emotions and sensations.
Embodied simulation in esthetic experience:
emotion and sensation
The historic theories of physiognomic expression, such as
those of Charles Le Brun from 1688 onwards, suggested
correlations between specific facial expressions and
specific emotions [34]. They have generally not been taken
as seriously as they merit [35]. Despite the work of Paul
Ekman on the correlations between emotion and physiog-
nomic expression [36], the earlier claims continue to be
regarded as having no empirical foundation. Yet current
neuroscientific research has begun to unveil the bases for
such correlations. For example, electromyographic
responses in the facial muscles of observers are congruent
with those involved in the observed person’s facial
expressions [37]. The integrity of the sensorimotor system
is crucial for the recognition of emotions displayed by others
[38] because it supports the reconstruction of what it would
feel like to be in a particular emotion, by means of simulation
of the related body state.
The implication of this process for empathy should be
obvious. An important step was taken by the research of
Antonio Damasio and co-workers on the neural correlates
of the relationship between emotions and the body states
that accompany them [39,40]. Damasio showed how feel-
ings defined as the conscious awareness of emotions are
related to neural mappings of the body state. His ‘as-if body
loop’ referred to the ways in which a variety of areas of the
brain react so as to assume the same state they would have
had if the observers of the actions and emotions of others
were engaged in the same actions or if they were subject to
the conditions they observed. Thus, Damasio [39] also
proposed that when one observes pictures that arouse
strong responses such as fear, the body is bypassed (for
the most part, we do not actually run away, although we
might) and the brain within ‘simulation mode’ [41]
reproduces the somatic states seen in or implied by the
painting or sculpture, ‘as if the body were present.
This perspective is consonant with our proposal, which
capitalizes upon the research on mirror neurons and the
embodied simulation account of empathy [42,43]. Much
evidence is available for the activation of the same
emotional circuits in observers as in the observed, particu-
larly in the case of expressions whether physiognomic or
with the entire body (e.g. fear, disgust and pain). These
results clarify the many ways that spectators precogni-
tively grasp emotions that are either explicitly shown or
implicitly suggested by works of art (as well as images
more generally). The same holds true for our perception of
others’ sensations like touch or pain (reviewed in Refs
When we see the body part of someone else being
touched or caressed [45,46], or when we see two objects
touching each other [45], our somatosensory cortices are
activated as if our body were subject to tactile stimulation.
Empathetic feels can no longer be regarded as a matter of
simple intuition and can be precisely located in the
relevant areas of the brain that are activated both in the
observed and in the observer.
These results provide the neural substrate for
empathetic somatic feels in response to representations
of figures touching or damaging others, as in the case of
Goya’s Desastres, as noted earlier. Empathetic simulation
of the somatic feeling that is evoked by an image where
flesh is shown to yield to the pressure of touch also enters
into esthetic responses to works such as Caravaggio’s
Incredulity of Saint Thomas (Figure 5).
Together with the empirical findings reviewed in the
previous sections, such results enable us to account for
three of the chief forms of response to visual images that
have hitherto remained unexplained: (i) the feeling of
bodily engagement with the gestures, movements and
intentions of others; (ii) the identification of the emotions
of observed others; and (iii) a feeling of empathy for bodily
sensations. But there is also a fourth possibility that is
suggested by the discovery of mirror neurons and the
theory of embodied simulation and that fleshes out the
evidence for their role in specifically esthetic responses. It
arises from a consideration of the formal qualities of a work
and the observation of the gestural traces of the artist.
Embodied simulation and implied gesture:
feeling the movement behind the mark
Whether in response to a wide range of non-figurative
works or to figurative works where the marks of the
maker’s instruments are particularly clear, observers often
Figure 5. Embodied simulation in esthetic experience: empathy for tactile
sensations. Vision of another person being touched automatically activates the
cortical network of areas that are normally involved in the experience of
being touched, as is clear from our experience of viewing paintings such as
Caravaggio’s Incredulity of St Thomas (1601–1602), oil on canvas, Potsdam,
Sanssouci, ß Stiftung Preußische Schlo
sser und Ga
rten Berlin-Brandenburg.
TRENDS in Cognitive Sciences Vol.11 No.5 201
feel a form of somatic response to vigorous handling of the
artistic medium and to visual evidence of the movement of
the hand more generally. Such issues cast considerable
light on esthetic experience because it is here divorced from
any form of overt imitation of a realistically portrayed
gesture or movement, but rather it is related to what is
implicit in the esthetic gesture or movement.
We propose that even the artist’s gestures in producing
the art work induce the empathetic engagement of the
observer, by activating simulation of the motor program
that corresponds to the gesture implied by the trace. The
marks on the painting or sculpture are the visible traces of
goal-directed movements; hence, they are capable of acti-
vating the relevant motor areas in the observer’s brain.
Despite the absence of published experiments on this issue,
the mirror-neuron research offers sufficient empirical evi-
dence to suggest that this is indeed the case.
Several studies show that motor simulation can be
induced in the brain when what is observed is the static
graphic artifact that is produced by the action, such as a
letter or a stroke. Knoblich et al. [47] showed that the
observation of a static graphic sign evokes a motor simu-
lation of the gesture that is required to produce it. Recent
brain imaging experiments have confirmed these results
and localized their anatomical bases. Using fMRI, Long-
camp et al. [48] showed that the visual presentation of
letters activated a sector of the left premotor cortex that
was also activated when participants wrote the letters.
This double activation was lateralized to the left hemi-
sphere in right-handed participants and to the right hemi-
sphere in left-handed participants. Previous studies have
demonstrated that oscillations within the 20 Hz band are
suppressed both by action execution and by observation
[49]. Longcamp et al. [50] studied the modulation of 20 Hz
oscillations in the hand representation in the primary
motor cortex during observation of letters. This revealed
a suppression of the oscillations both during hand move-
ments and during the observation of static letters. The
modulation effect was stronger for the observation of hand-
written than of typed letters.
All this evidence shows that our brains can reconstruct
actions by merely observing the static graphic outcome of
an agent’s past action. This reconstruction process during
observation is an embodied simulation mechanism that
relies on the activation of the same motor centers required
to produce the graphic sign. We predict that similar results
will be obtained using, as stimuli, art works that are
characterized by the particular gestural traces of the artist,
as in Fontana and Pollock.
Concluding remarks
Automatic empathetic responses constitute a basic level of
response to images and to works of art. Underlying such
responses is the process of embodied simulation that
enables the direct experiential understanding of the inten-
tional and emotional contents of images. This basic level of
reaction to images becomes essential to any understanding
of their effectiveness as art. Historical and cultural or
contextual factors do not contradict the importance of
considering the neural processes that arise in the empa-
thetic understanding of visual works of art.
Clearly a question arises about the degree to which
empathetic responses to actions in real life differ from
responses to actions that are represented in paintings
and sculptures. Here there is scope for further research
(Box 4). In the case of figurative art, one might assume that
it is the artist’s conscious and unconscious skill in evoking
an empathetic response that most directly impacts the
esthetic quotient of the work. Our discussion of embodied
responses to implied gestures and to movements that
underlie pictorial and sculptural marks suggests the
further significance of the MNS for understanding esthetic
responses to the formal aspects of the work.
This work was supported by MIUR (Ministero Italiano dell’Universita
della Ricerca).
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Box 4. Questions for future research
Given the relevance of embodied simulation for the under-
standing of negative emotion al response, how might further light
be cast on positive responses to the observation of movement
and action?
What experiments can be devised to assess the distinctions
between empathetic responses to movements and objects in real
life and to visual representations of these?
What is the emotional relevance of colors in esthetic experience?
What are the therapeutic pos sibilities of the observation of
movement and emotion in works of art?
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TRENDS in Cognitive Sciences Vol.11 No.5 203
... He proposes an "extensive" reading of our interaction with cultural artifacts that goes beyond the possible purview of neuroaesthetics (Hutto, 2015). Shaun Gallagher's enactive-embodied interpretation of motor theories of our engagement with art (Gallagher, 2011) criticizes mirror neuron accounts of aesthetics, such as Freedberg and Gallese (2007), for their inability to address the difference between actual objects and the representations of such objects produced by artists. Whereas Hutto's criticism is mostly focused on neuroaesthetics' misconstrual of the relation between perceiving organism and artifact, Gallagher also proposes an initial theory of the value of art. ...
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In this paper, I review recent enactive approaches to art and aesthetic experience. Radical enactivists (Hutto, 2015) claim that our engagement with art is extensive, in the sense that it is non-contentful and artifact-including. Gallagher (2011) defends an embodied-enactive account of the specific kind of affordances artworks provide. For Noë (2015) art is a reorganizational practice. Each of these accounts claims that empirical (neuro)aesthetics is incapable of capturing the art-related engagement they want to highlight. While I agree on the relational and enactive nature of the mind and see the presented theories as important contributions to our understanding of art and aesthetics, I will argue that their dismissal of empirical aesthetics is misguided on several counts. A more qualified look can reveal relevant empirical research for claims enactive theorists should be interested in. Their criticism is either too general regarding the empirical methods employed or based on philosophical claims that themselves can be subjected to empirical scrutiny.
... Yet, the MNS has not only been shown to be involved in processes that underlie our emotional and social engagement with the actions of others. It also, as David Freedberg and Vittorio Gallese (2007) have argued, might be a necessary component in our engagement with traces of the artist in artworks (they discuss visual art and the motor engagement with brushstrokes and cuts in the canvas). The interesting discovery is that the motor system responds to the presence of visible signs in the artifact without any human fi gure explicitly present (see, e.g., Umiltà et al. 2012). ...
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I will argue that the ambition to provide a naturalized aesthetics of film in Murray Smith’s Film, Art, and the Third Culture is not fully matched by the actual explanatory work done. This is because it converges too much on the emotional engagement with character at the expense of other features of film. I will make three related points to back up my claim. I will argue (1) that Smith does not adequately capture in what ways the phenomenon of seeing-in, introduced early in the book, could explain our complex engagement with moving images; (2) that because of this oversight he also misconstrues the role of the mirror neuron system in our engagement with filmic scenes; and (3) that an account of embodied seeing-in could be a remedy for the above. In order to demonstrate the latter point, I will show how such an account could contribute to the analysis of a central sequence in Alfred Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train (1951) that Smith also discusses.
... The human mirror neuron system (MNS), which is activated by watching another engage in activity, is one factor that permits visual priming to exert kinesthetic influence, in that an individual will feel the physiological effects of muscle tension despite perceiving static images (Gao, Bentin, & Shen, 2015). Cognitive rehearsal of observed motion in the observers' working memory results in the stimulation of the corresponding MNS, such that an individual experiences a sense of embodied simulation (Freedberg, & Gallese, 2007). This can occur in the absence of actual observed motion when individuals project intentions, thoughts, or emotions onto those they observe within a priming image, which activates similar cortical circuits to those fired during their own performance of the same activity (Kilner and Lemon, 2013;Porcelli, Giromini, Parolin, Pined, & Viglione, 2013). ...
... As highlighted above, focusing slightly to the right of centre positions a greater proportion of the image within the left visual field, which could facilitate emotional processing (e.g., Borod et al., 1998;Karev, 2000). Artwork is inherently emotional and the emotional reactions that are elicited by abstract artwork (Chatterjee & Vartanian, 2014;Freedberg & Gallese, 2007;Leder, Belke, Oeberst, & Augustin, 2004) might lead participants to focus their attention within the upper right quadrant to better engage emotional processing. Indeed, right hemisphere activation is also consistent with superior visuospatial processing (Corballis, 2003;Hagenbeek & Van Strien, 2002), which would undoubtedly encourage more thorough exploration of the abstract artwork. ...
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The same piece of artwork can attract both admiration and rejection from different people. One potential explanation for this effect is individual differences in perceptual biases, which influence the way in which we see different aspects of the same image. We explored the relationship between individual differences (i.e., personality) and eye movements for examinations of abstract art. Images were presented for 5000 ms, after which participants judged aesthetic appeal and perceived value using visual analogue scales. Scale anchor labels (Looks Good/Looks Bad; $0/$5000) were counterbalanced between participants such that positive labels were on the left half of the time and on the right half of the time. Overall, more fixations occurred to the right and upper visual fields. Neuroticism significantly predicted the proportion of fixations to the left, whereas cognitive disorganisation negatively predicted the proportion of fixations to upper space. Participants found images more aesthetically pleasing and more valuable when positive anchors were on the left. Findings demonstrate that personality traits influence fixation patterns. Further, the positioning of positive anchor labels on the left leads to higher ratings of visual stimuli.
... Converging evidence shows that when perceiving an action or emotion, either positive or negative, the observer uses his or her own body and neural architecture responsible for first-person experience to simulate and represent that of the target (Gallese & Sinigaglia 2011). Regarding art reception, recent research has shown that the appreciation of artwork, such as a painting or dance, is partially grounded in the embodied simulation of the actions and emotions represented, as revealed by activity in sensorimotor cortices, limbic, and reward regions (Blood & Zatorre 2001;Calvo-Merino et al. 2005;Freedberg & Gallese 2007). ...
While covering all commentaries, our response specifically focuses on the following issues: How can the hypothesis of emotional distancing (qua art framing) be compatible with stipulating high levels of felt negative emotions in art reception? Which concept of altogether pleasurable mixed emotions does our model involve? Can mechanisms of predictive coding, social sharing, and immersion enhance the power of our model?
The choice of material in the creation of artwork is vital to the communication of the meaning of the work. Bedsheets act as silent witnesses to many natural processes in life such as birth, puberty, pleasure, disease, decay, and death. At a time of day when we are wearing little clothing, or perhaps none at all, the bedsheet is in contact with the body for many hours every night, soaking up sweat and bodily fluids to create a very personal cloth impregnated with the identity of a person. The bedsheet can become a material on which to literally or metaphorically write our meanings and messages to the world. This article will discuss the materiality of the bedsheet, an everyday and humble cloth. It will reference the work of artists, including Ewa Kuryluk who used sheets in her work, and draw on my own research into the use of materials to carry metaphors of grief and loss. It will be illustrated by my recent works using bedsheets to make a connection with the emotions of the viewer.
This paper outlines the thinking of the English psychoanalyst and painter Marion Milner (1900–1998) and examines the issues of creativity and art. Milner, as a result of personal research on the inability to paint, came to believe that the creative artistic process, intended as the creation of new symbols that attribute a personal and subjective meaning to the newly-created reality, occurs during moments of ›primary madness‹ (of illusion of unity, of pre-logical fusion between subject and object) making it possible to have a relationship of reciprocity between internal and external reality. In such a process, the aesthetic experience of the artist at work plays a key role.
Within the last decade, the urban phenomenon bike-sharing has colonised cities' streets on a global scale. Presented as an individual-collective sustainable mobility service, the transportation effects of bike-sharing schemes are said to change urban environments into “sustainable cities”. Yet, a careful examination first notices that implemented bike-sharing services do not fulfil their sustainability promise. Second, it shows that they are actually the product of often long-established coalitions of interest between the outdoor advertising industry and municipalities, and whose action turns public space into attractive sites of public promotion. Considering in addition that advertisers have seized the techniques of the happening and other perception altering artistic innovations of the 1960s to operate them into their economic management of human attention, this master thesis suggests that the raison d'être of the bike-sharing phenomenon lies in its provision of an aesthetic experience transforming the perception of urban space and life by performing “urban sustainable mobility”.
Subjects carried out a paired comparison experiment in which they were asked to make a preference judgement between a computer facsimile of an original Mondrian painting, and a modified version of the same picture in which the proportional relations of the compositional lines had been modified by a relatively small amount. Subjects were significantly better than chance expectations in their preference for the original Mondrians, suggesting that these paintings may encapsulate some universal principle of compositional order which can be detected by subjects.
Previous research has demonstrated that different patterns of facial muscle activity are correlated with different emotional states. In the present study subjects were exposed to pictures of happy and angry facial expressions, in response to which their facial electromyographic (EMG) activities, heart rate (HR), and palmar skin conductance responses (SCRs) were recorded. It was found that happy and angry faces evoked different facial EMG response patterns, with increased zygomatic region activity to happy stimuli and increased corrugator region activity to angry stimuli. Furthermore, both happy and angry faces evoked HR decelerations and similar SCR magnitudes. The results are interpreted as suggesting that facial EMG recordings provide a method for distinguishing between response patterns to “positive” and “negative” emotional visual stimuli.