Boredom in art

Article (PDF Available)inBehavioral and Brain Sciences 40 · November 2017with 331 Reads
DOI: 10.1017/S0140525X17001674
Cite this publication
Abstract
In the light of recent findings on the nature of boredom, I argue that boredom is a potentially useful emotion in art reception and show how the Distancing-Embracing model can be applied to boredom.
though the suggestion that these are less intense and more
ephemeral than emotional reactions to real-world events is pat-
ently false in some cases. My worry is that the metaphor of dis-
tanceis asked to carry the explanatory heft in the Distancing-
Embracing model. Given that we do respond to what we know
are not here-and-now situations, including to what we know to
be ctions, it is not obvious that we are distancedfrom what
we feel in a way that could solve the paradox of tragedy.
Beginning in the 1960s, philosophers of art (Cohen 1965;
Dickie 1964) argued strongly against the idea that aesthetic expe-
rience involves a psychologically distinctive attitude of distancing.
What was needed, George Dickie argued, was attention of the
regular kind, plus knowledge of the conventions, history, and
practices of the institutions within which art is made, presented,
and appreciated. Despite some pushback (for example, see Han-
ing 2000; Pandit 1976; Price 1977), these arguments succeeded
in undermining the idea that aesthetic experience depended on an
act of psychological distancing. Philosophers of art are not inclined
these days to talk of psychological distance, except perhaps as a
weak metaphor that could not perform the heavy lifting that the
authors of the Distancing-Embracing model require of it.
You are not alone Social sharing as a
necessary addition to the Embracing factor
doi:10.1017/S0140525X17001662, e358
Boris Egloff
Department of Psychology, Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz, D-55099
Mainz, Germany.
egloff@uni-mainz.de
http://www.ppd.psychologie.uni-mainz.de/62.php
Abstract: I argue that the Embracing factor cannot be adequately
conceptualized without taking into account the regulatory power of the
social sharing of emotions. Humans tend to share their negative
emotions with close others, and they benet from it. I outline how this
mechanism works in art reception by regulating and transforming
negative emotions into positive experiences.
First, I share with Menninghaus et al. and all Behavioral and
Brain Sciences readers the pleasure I experienced in reading
this elegant and thought-provoking target article. In this
comment, I argue that the very function of the Embracing
factor, which positively integrates, assimilates, or adopts the
powers of negative emotions in the service of making art reception
more emotional, more intense, more interesting, and, in the end,
more rewarding(sect. 1, point B, para. 1), requires an additional
sixth processing component termed the social sharing of negative
emotions. This argument is based on theories that emphasize the
social function of emotions (Fischer & Manstead 2008; Keltner &
Haidt 1999; Rimé 2007). In a nutshell, they argue that, as humans
are social beings, emotions are essentially interpersonal; they
signal inner states and action tendencies to other individuals.
The act of sharing emotions with others is motivated by, for
example, venting, seeking support, nding understanding, and
bonding (see Rimé 2009). In turn, this leads to afliation,
enhances group cohesion, and ultimately serves the function of
survival. Consequently, social sharing is a universal and often
employed act of emotion regulation that is often met with subjec-
tive success. It is important to note that the social sharing of neg-
ative emotions in real life does not necessarily lead to recovery in
the sense that the negative emotion is immediately and
completely eliminated (Rimé 2007;2009). However, this nding
does not invalidate my argument of the importance of conceptu-
alizing social sharing in the context of the enjoyment of negative
emotions in art reception because (a) there should be several
quantitative and qualitative differences among the emotions
elicited by the arts and in real life, and (b) Menninghaus et al.s
model is not a model of conversion, if conversion means a full-
blown transformation of negative into positive affect(sect. 4.6).
How does social sharingwork in the process of positively integrat-
ing negative emotions into a rewarding perception of art? Please
consider how often you attend places where you experience emo-
tions elicited by the arts such as theaters, museums, cinemas, con-
certs, and readings, along with signicant others (reading a book
alone is certainly an exception to this rule). Please then remember
how often and intenselyyou share your emotions with your compan-
ion immediately after the cultural event by talking about the emo-
tions that this event elicited in you (not to mention the not so
well-educated individuals who to our displeasure talk during
the event). It is importantthat there are several additional nonverbal
ways to share emotions in the form of crying together, consoling
somebody, touching each other, exchanging glances, and so forth,
that can also unfold during the event. Social sharing leads to aflia-
tion, bonding, and relief, which are rewarding and denitely posi-
tive. As such, social sharing is at the core of transforming negative
emotions into the enjoyment and pleasure of art reception.
It is interesting to note that this argument is in principle laid out
in Menninghaus et al.s article when they elaborate on empathy,
compassion, and being moved in the case of sadness (sect.
4.2.1). These thoughts simply need to be transferred from an
intrapersonal perspective to an interpersonal one: Person 1s
sadness, which can be observed and is actively shared, leads to
the empathic and compassionate actions of person 2 (and often
vice versa), which, in turn, leads to positive feelings on both
sides. (Anecdotal evidence says that at least for some individuals,
the ultimate motivation to attend operas and watch movies is that
it is fantastic to weep bitterly with your best friend.)
The same logic can in principle be applied to the benets of
social sharing in the cases of horror and disgust in art reception.
In these cases, one can also think of an additional socialcompo-
nent of impression management: To show signicant others that
you are not at all scared or that you enjoy being scared can have
important interpersonal functions in terms of bonding and/or
power, and subsequently, these experiences lead to pleasure
(usually only for the actor in the case of power/dominance).
These assumptions canbe put to empirical tests by assessing neg-
ative and positive emotions and indicators of the aesthetic enjoy-
ment of art with or without other individuals. Specically, one
can systematically vary (a) the type of art (e.g., movie, play, paint-
ing), (b) the dominant negative emotion that it induces (sadness,
fear/horror, disgust), and (c) the presence or absence of other
people. Within the condition presence,one can further differen-
tiate among (i) the presence of a (any) person versus the presence
of a signicant other, and (ii) sharing emotions verbally and/or non-
verbally versus not sharing versus suppressing.
Finally, I add that even when engaging in art reception alone,
we can anticipate, remember, or imagine the act of sharing our
inner feelings with close others, a process that should help regu-
late these feelings in a manner that is similar to the process out-
lined above. Taken together, as humans are social beings and
emotions have important social functions, the social sharing of
negative emotions is the key to regulating and transforming
them into positive ones, also and especially in art reception.
Boredom in art
doi:10.1017/S0140525X17001674, e359
Andreas Elpidorou
Department of Philosophy, University of Louisville, Louisville, KY 40292.
andreas.elpidorou@louisville.edu
www.elpidorou.net
Abstract: In the light of recent ndings on the nature of boredom, I argue
that boredom is a potentially useful emotion in art reception and show how
the Distancing-Embracing model can be applied to boredom.
Commentary/Menninghaus et al.: The Distancing-Embracing model of the enjoyment of negative emotions in art reception
BEHAVIORAL AND BRAIN SCIENCES, 40 (2017) 25
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Boredom is conspicuously absent from Menninghaus et al.s discus-
sion. This is surprising. First, as a transitory affective state,
boredom is an all-too-common experience. It affects individuals of
all ages, genders, and cultures, and it does so in a wide range of situ-
ations (Acee et al. 2010;Fisher1993; Game 2007; Grubb 1975;Iso-
Ahola & Weissinger 1987;Ngetal.2015;Sundbergetal.1991;Wein-
stein et al. 1995). Second, boredom is the topic of an active interdis-
ciplinary research program. Its antecedents, effects, experiential
prole, and neurophysiological correlates are all currently explored
(Danckert & Merrield 2016;Eastwoodetal.2012; Fahlman et al.
2013), and there is strong evidence in support of the claim that
boredom is an emotion in its own right (Van Tilburg & Igou 2012).
Third, a great deal of art is boring (Moller 2014). The cetology sec-
tions of Moby Dick are boring. SatiesVexations, if played in its
entirety, is boring. WagnersRing Cycle is boring. And so is
WarholsEmpire, William BasinskisThe Disintegration Loops,
much of slow cinema, and many second movements of symphonies.
Although the authors do not discuss boredom, their remarks
suggest that the Distancing-Embracing model does not apply to
boredom. We are told that the compositional interplays of positive
and negative emotions can lead to enjoyment because they render
the experience of boredom less likely to occur. If the reduction or
elimination ofthe experience of boredom is a desideratum of the Dis-
tancing-Embracing model, then boredom would seem to be a nega-
tive emotion that is incapable of enhancing aesthetic experience.
But if the Distancing-Embracing model does not apply to
boredom, then the model fails to account for an experience that
much of art elicits in audiences. Such a conclusion need not
perturb the authors. The authors could respond that their model is
not intended to apply to all negative affective experiences that
arise within art, only to those that give rise to enjoyment. Assuming
that boredom never leads to enjoyment, boredom falls outside of the
scope of their model.
Although such a response is dialectically available, it might not be
desirable. First, the authors would need to argue that the experience
of boredom never gives rise to enjoyment. Second, the Distancing-
Embracing model would offer an incomplete picture of our experi-
ence of negative emotions in artan explanation of the role of
boredom would still be needed. For those two reasons, I suggest
a way of incorporating boredom into the authorsmodel. I argue
that recent ndings on the nature of boredom allow us to think of
boredom as a potentially useful emotion in art reception, one that
could promote an intense and focused aesthetic experience.
What is boredom? By boredomI mean the state of boredom
(Elpidorou 2017b) and not the personality trait of boredomthe
latter is conceptualized as the frequent experience of boredom in
a wide range of situations, is measured using self-report scales
(Farmer & Sundberg 1986), and has been shown to be correlated
with a number of harms (Elpidorou 2017a; Vodanovich 2003; Voda-
novich & Watt 2015). As a state, boredom is a concrete and short-
lived affective experience that is characterized by feelings of dissat-
isfaction (Csikszentmihalyi 1975; Fahlman et al. 2013; Greenson
1953; Hartocollis 1972), attentional difculties (Eastwood et al.
2012), and the perception of meaninglessness (Van Tilburg &
Igou 2012). In a state of boredom, one is disengaged with ones sit-
uation (Fahlman et al. 2013) and one wishes to do something else
(Bench & Lench 2013; Elpidorou 2017b;2017c).
Recent work on boredom suggests that boredom is an emotion
with a self-regulatory function. Because of its affective, cognitive,
and volitional character, boredom can motivate the pursuit of a
new goal when the current goal ceases to be attractive, meaningful,
or satisfactory (Bench & Lench 2013; Elpidorou 2014;2015;2017b;
2017c; Pekrun et al. 2010; Van Tilburg & Igou 2011,2012). Specif-
ically, Van Tilburgand Igou (2011;2012) have argued that boredom
not only makes ones activities seemmeaningless, but also motivates
one to re-establish a sense of meaningfulness. Indeed, boredom is
capable of triggering meaning re-establishment strategies that
affect an individuals behavior and cognition (Barbalet 1999). Fur-
thermore, it has been shown that boredom can elicit nostalgia (Van
Tilburg et al. 2013). Nostalgia can promote meaningfulness and is
itself a bittersweet (although primarily positive) affective state (Rout-
ledge et al. 2012; Sedikides et al. 2008; Wildschut et al. 2006).
These two features of boredom its capacity to promote
meaning re-establishment strategies and its relationship to nostal-
gia render boredom an emotion that is consistent with the
Embracing factor of the authorsproposed model. First, boredom
can motivate us to nd or discover meaning in an artwork that pre-
viously failed to capture our attention. If we have no other option
but to engage with the artwork, we will have to alleviate boredom
by seeking alternative ways to interact with the artwork. Many con-
temporary works in theater, lm, and music do precisely that: by not
permitting easy solutions to boredom, they force us to return to the
artwork and to try to uncover meaning. Boredom can thus produce
a multilayered and cognitively demanding engagement with the
work of art. What is more, by compelling us to discover meaning,
boredom could lead to the favorable retroactive appraisal of the
artwork (Oliver & Woolley 2010).
Second, andsomewhat more speculatively,just like other negative
emotions (e.g., sadness and fear), boredom may also give rise to a
concomitant feeling of a mixed affective nature that can reconcile
the presence of boredom with our hedonic expectations of art recep-
tion. In the case of boredom, nostalgia could be the mediator
emotion that transforms our experience and leads us to judge that
our engagement with a boring work of art is not bereft ofenjoyment.
The above considerations constitute only the beginning of an
account of the role of boredom within art. Still, they underscore
boredoms potential value in art and show how the Distancing-
Embracing model can be applied to the case of boredom.
Individual differences in embracing negatively
valenced art: The roles of openness and
sensation seeking
doi:10.1017/S0140525X17001686, e360
Kirill Fayn and Peter Kuppens
Research Group Quantitative Psychology and Individual Differences, KU
Leuven-University of Leuven, 3000 Leuven, Belgium.
kirill.fayn@kuleuven.be peter.kuppens@kuleuven.be
https://ppw.kuleuven.be/okp/people/Kirill_Fayn/
https://ppw.kuleuven.be/okp/people/Peter_Kuppens/
Abstract: We elaborate on the role of individual differences in the
processing mechanisms outlined by the Distancing-Embracing model.
The role of openness is apparent in appreciating meaning-making art
that elicits interest, feeling moved, and mixed emotions. The inuence
of sensation seeking is likely to manifest in thrill-chasing art that draws
on the arousing interplay of positive and negative emotions.
The Distance-Embracing (D-E) model of the enjoyment of neg-
ative emotions in art reception lays out a framework for under-
standing the paradoxical exposure to and enjoyment of
negatively valenced artworks. But clearly, not everyone enjoys dis-
turbing or unpleasant art. Although some people seek or relish it,
others go to great lengths to protest or decry its existence and
public display. While the authors acknowledge the existence of
individual differences, the D-E model itself does not elaborate
on the exact nature of such differences or how these differences
should be understood in relation to known dimensions of person-
ality. Yet, a better understanding of how people differ in their
engagement with negatively valenced art is crucial for insight
into the factors that lead to such engagement. In this commentary,
we elaborate on the role of individual differences, focusing on the
role of two traits openness to experience and sensation seeking.
Both openness and sensation seeking are traits that describe
approach tendencies, but toward partly different situations. Open-
ness reects cognitive exploration (DeYoung 2014) and is related
to consumption of visual art, literary works of ction, and classical
Commentary/Menninghaus et al.: The Distancing-Embracing model of the enjoyment of negative emotions in art reception
26 BEHAVIORAL AND BRAIN SCIENCES, 40 (2017)
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