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Together in the Dark?: Investigating the Understanding and Feeling of Intended Emotions Between Viewers and Professional Artists at the Venice Biennale


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We present a unique opportunity to test the ability of artists to systematically evoke emotions in an audience via art and, transversely, for viewers to pick out intentions of the artist. This follows a recent article which had shown this connection using installation artworks by MFA student-artists. However, this earlier article had left open questions regarding whether similar relationships might be found with professional artists and contemporary art-putting at odds earlier expressive theories that art should transmit emotion versus 20-21st century arguments that art-making might be more for its "own sake" and thus with art, artists, and/or contemporary viewers perhaps not producing similar results. With works from the Italian pavilion of the 57th Venice Biennale, we matched viewers' (N = 113) reported subjectively felt emotions, and their identification of emotions that they thought the artist wanted them to feel, to the actual artists' intentions (as communicated via an accompanying curator's text). Replicating the previous article, viewers identified intended emotions well above chance and reported feeling intended emotions more than non-intended emotions, with two of three artworks. At the same time, what individuals subjectively felt better predicted how they interpreted artist intentions with an effect size twice that of actual intentions. Feeling that one understood intention, regardless of actually being correct, and feeling more emotion, in general, also better predicted positively rating the art. Similar results were found in a reanalysis of the previous article's data, raising intriguing implications for the role of objective and subjective understanding, empathy, and appraisal in art experience.
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Together in the Dark?: Investigating the UnderstandingAQ: 1 and Feeling of
Intended Emotions Between Viewers and Professional Artists at the
Venice Biennale
AQ: 2
Matthew Pelowski
1, 2
,AQ: au Eva Specker
,Jane Boddy
,Beatrice Immelmann
,Felix Haiduk
,Giovanni Spezie
Paula Ibáñez de Aldecoa
,Hillary Jean-Joseph
,Helmut Leder
1, 2
, and Patrick S. Markey
Faculty of Psychology, University of Vienna
Vienna Cognitive Science Hub, University of Vienna
AQ: 3
Department of Art History, University of Vienna
Department of Behavioral and Cognitive Biology, University of Vienna
Unit of Ornithology, University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna
We present a unique opportunity to test the ability of artists to systematically evoke emotions in an audience
via art and, transversely, for viewers to pick out intentions of the artist. This follows a recent article which
had shown this connection using installation artworks by MFA student-artists. However, this earlier article
had left open questions regarding whether similar relationships might be found with professional artists and
contemporary artputting at odds earlier expressive theories that art should transmit emotion versus 20-21st
century arguments that art-making might be more for its own sakeand thus with art, artists, and/or contem-
porary viewers perhaps not producing similar results. With works from the Italian pavilion of the 57th
Venice Biennale, we matched viewers(N=113)reportedsubjectivelyfeltemotions,andtheiridentication
of emotions that they thought the artist wanted them to feel, to the actual artistsintentions (as communicated
via an accompanying curatorstext).Replicatingthepreviousarticle,viewersidentied intended emotions
well above chance and reported feeling intended emotions more than non-intended emotions, with two of
three artworks. At the same time, what individuals subjectively felt better predicted how they interpreted artist
intentions with an effect size twice that of actual intentions. Feeling that one understood intention, regardless
of actually being correct, and feeling more emotion, in general, also better predicted positively rating the art.
Similar results were found in a reanalysis of the previous article's data, raising intriguing implications for the
role of objective and subjective understanding, empathy, and appraisal in art experience.
Keywords: artist intentions, emotion sharing, empathy, installation art, Venice Biennale
An audience is never wrong. An individual member of it may be an imbe-
cile, but a thousand imbeciles together in the darkthat is critical genius.
Billy Wilder
Humans, it seems, have a profound ability to share emotional
experiences. We cheer together in stadiums, smile when we see
another smiling person; friends give each other shoulders to cry
on. The overt and the spontaneous sharing and decoding of
emotions are, one can argue, one of the core aspects of our social
lives and are perhaps even a deninglearned or innateaspect
of our perception and our relation to the environment (Freedberg
& Gallese, 2007). In turn, the ability to comprehend and respond
to others' responsesespecially when viewing faces and bodies
has been a well-reported target in various elds connected to
brain- or body-mirroring (Calvo-Merino et al., 2005), empathy,
emotion contagion, communication, and other sectors throughout
psychology (Cole, 2001;Pelowski, Specker, et al., 2020;Singer &
Lamm, 2009, for reviews).
Matthew Pelowski
Beatrice Immelmann
Felix Haiduk
Giovanni Spezie
Helmut Leder
Matthew Pelowski and Eva Specker contributed equally to the writing
and should be considered joint rst authors.
We thank the General Ofce of the Department of Fine Arts (Settore
Arti Visive) for kindly providing access to the Italian Pavilion of the
Venice Biennale for our study. The empirical data collection was supported
by workshop funding to Jane Boddy and Patrick S. Markey from the
Vienna Doctoral School, Cognition, Behavior, and Neuroscience (2017
VDS CoBeNe Workshop From Theory to Practice: Scientically
Investigating Intentions and Emotions in Contemporary Art). The writing
of this article was supported by a Grant to Matthew Pelowski from the EU
Horizon 2020 TRANSFORMATIONS-17-2019, Societal Challenges and
the Arts (870827 ARTIS, Art and Research on Transformations of
Individuals of Society).
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Matthew
Pelowski, Faculty of Psychology, University of Vienna, Wächtergasse 1,
1010 Vienna, Austria. Email:
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Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts
©2021 American Psychological Association
ISSN: 1931-3896
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One area where emotion sharing is, most probably, particularly
pronounced, but which has seen comparatively little empirical
assessment, regards visual art. From at least the days of Plato
(Swanger, 1993), art was, and still is, seen as allowing individuals
to share how it feels or what it is like to have and to feel or appre-
ciate an affective experience. Emotion sharing via art was, in fact,
a major component in the theoretical formation of the 19th century
idea of Einfühlung (e.g., Vischer, 1873) or feeling into the
affective state of another person or artwork, which became the pre-
cursor to the current idea of empathy itself (Gerger et al., 2018).
This might involve a combination of both intellectually recogniz-
ing how an artist wanted one to feel or decoding emotional content
from the artwork, as well as actually feeling, and perhaps even
sharing, with the artist, emotion through the art (Barwell, 1986;
Pelowski, Specker, et al., 2020).
Such processes, traditionally, were among the driving argu-
ments for what art should be and what might dene the work of
successful artists. Numerous writers have suggested that the better
ones ability to feel into an object or to decode its emotional inten-
tions, the deeper, the more sincere, and the more pleasurable ones
experience (for visual art, see Freedberg & Gallese, 2007;Lanzoni,
2009;Leder et al., 2012;Vischer, 1873; see also Eerola et al.,
2016;Miu & Baltes!, 2012;Zickfeld et al., 2017 for opera and
music). Similarly, attending to ones own affective reactions, as
well as a presumed viewers potential response, may be a guiding
point for successful art making (Kozbelt, 2006;Tinio, 2013;Yegor-
ova, 2018). Even children seem to be able to anticipate and detect
emotions in artworks (Callaghan, 1997,2000), and the ability to
feel and decode the intentions and affective state of another is
argued to be an evolutionary basis for the emergence of art itself
(Donald, 2006;Gell, 1998). As put by Tolstoysumming up this
expressive theory(Zangwill, 1999; also see Knox, 1930) of art
reception and production, and also suggesting compelling cases for
our general ability to decode intentionality and affective informa-
tion even without the simultaneous presence of other human faces
or bodies (Gell, 1998;Pelowski, Specker, et al., 2020), to evoke in
oneself a feeling one has once experienced, and ...then, by means
of movements, lines, colors, sounds, or forms ... to transmit that
feeling that others may experience the same feelingthis is the ac-
tivity of art(Tolstoy, 1898/1962, p. 68, italics added).
However, despite this longstanding interest and the suggested
importance for art experience, the actual incidence and impacts of
emotional sharing through visual art have rarely been empirically
investigated. As recently reviewed by Pelowski, Specker, et al.
(2020; see also Kozbelt, 2006), only a handful of studies have
begun considering even if humans can routinely decode and com-
municate feelings via visual art. These studies have looked only at
rather basic questions of, for example, body mirroring (Umiltà et
al., 2012;
AQ: 4 Sbriscia-Fioretti et al., 2013), reporting feelings of posi-
tive/negative valence, or, most often, merely recognizing basic va-
lence or whether an artwork appears more or less expressive
itself (Barbiere et al., 2007;Callaghan, 1997;Dubal et al., 2014;
Mayer et al., 1990;Melcher & Bacci, 2013;Miu & Baltes!, 2012).
Especially because of the laboratory setting, which can tend to
minimize natural, albeit perhaps less controllable, emotional and
perhaps empathic responses (Pelowski et al., 2017), studies have
also not often involved examples of real visual art, and have not
considered more complex combinations of emotions or other
responses, which nonetheless form the basis for much of the
discussion of artistviewer empathic connections in art (Pelowski,
Specker, et al., 2020). Similarly, few studies incorporate the actual
artist, which could document how they felt or what they in fact
wanted to communicate to a viewer. Thus, questions regarding the
incidence and the conditions whereby we actually identify, feel,
and respond to emotion or empathic connections in art, and how
this impacts art engagement, are very much open. AQ: 5
Putting Emotion Sharing and Identification to the Test
In a recent article (Pelowski, Specker, et al., 2020), several
members of our author team attempted to test, for the rst time,
some of these above factors. Following a paradigm (see also Dubal
et al., 2014;Takahashi, 1995 for similar attempts) in which we
had the opportunity to work with both viewers and visual artists,
three Master of Fine Arts students were recruited to create installa-
tion art pieces for a designated gallery space. During the process
of making, they were asked to document, via questionnaires with a
number of individual emotions, their own felt experience. Further-
more, they were asked to identify which emotions (if any) they
wanted an audience to feel using the same list. In a follow-up
study, the installation pieces were exhibited and viewers (N= 37)
were asked to engage the artworks and, after each experience, to
report on their own felt emotions as well as their understanding of
the artistsintentions for the viewer experience using the same
questionnaire as was used with the artists.
This was designed to test two main processes whereby individuals
might empathically respond to emotion via art: both (a) a more ana-
lytic or declarative response (Barwell, 1986)wherebyaviewermight,
as part of their perception or meaning-making, identify emotional
tones or symbolic content presumably communicated by an artwork,
as well as the main target for most previous empirical assessment;
and (b) the actual feeling or sharing of emotion as intended by the
artist, based presumably on the formal features or metaphorical/sym-
bolic content of an artwork which might evoke certain subjective
responses in a viewer, and thus coinciding with general discussions in
psychology of empathy of emotion mirroring(Freedberg & Gallese,
2007), emotional contagion(Singer & Lamm, 2009), and hot,
subjectively felt emotional response (Schaefer et al., 2003).
The study found evidence for both types of connections. With
two of the three artworks, viewers could routinely identify the
intentions of the artist in terms of creating certain feelings. They
also reported routinely feeling more the emotions that had been
intended by the artist. Many viewers also shared the same affective
experience as the artist had reported when making their art. Even
more, the felt affective experienceto some extent feeling what
the artist intended and sharing the same feelings with the artist, but
also feeling generally more emotion and having a subjective sense
of understanding the intentions of the artistcorrelated positively
with liking the art. On the other hand, the more objective measure
of being able to actually guess intended emotions did not connect
to positive ratings or the other sense of artist presence or under-
standing of intentions, nor did it correlate to the emotion feeling
aspects. Thus, especially in the aspect of subjective responses, this
added empirical support to the core aspects of the expressive
theory but also suggested that the different means of emotion
reception and decoding may play different roles in art experience.
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But What of Other Artworks and Professional
Artists?Does an Expressive Theory Still Hold?
At the same time, although providing intriguing evidence that
viewers may often be able to interpret and empathically connect to
artists via art, the Pelowski, Specker, et al. (2020) study also raised
many questions. The study involved three artworks of one art vari-
ety, made by students, with lay viewers, and thus it was argued
that this should be treated primarily as a proof of concept, calling
for future replications with other examples of art, viewers, and
artists. In this vein, one main issue raised by the study was whether
or not a different result might have been found if using more estab-
lished professional artists. Indeed, this very question was raised in
the rst articles review, with the authors in turn suggesting that,
although having passed a competitive entrance examination, [the
selected artists] may not show the same emotion-transferring abil-
ity as more established professionals(p. 15). Following the argu-
ment that art should be about transmitting emotions, it could be
that as one matures in their art making, they might develop the
ability to create such connections. Especially those artists who do
rise to the top of their eld may be those who hone their technique
and rene their message, producing clearer, more profound com-
munication. This, of course, could be a feature of what makes
some artists particularly notable or elevated.
On the other hand, one can make the opposite argument,
itself based on a dueling theory regarding art as an emotionally
communicative medium. Starting from the early 20th century
idea of Art for art's sake, translated from the French L'art pour
l'art (see Goins, 2015;Hospers, 1955;Zangwill, 1999), a grow-
ing critical disenchantment can also be traced with the very
expression theory idea that an artist should care about, much
less try to connect with, a viewer. Especially, this concerned
sharing emotions or affective and didactic content. Rather,
true art,it was argued, should be divorced from such commu-
nicative or generally expressive functions, reecting instead an
act important in itself and concerning only the inner experien-
ces, the interactions between world and materials, or the perso-
nal struggle of the artist. As noted, for example, by the painter
James McNeill Whistler (in Edwards, 2006,para.4;seealso
Kirsch & Mathis, 2015), rather than having the goal of moving
an audience or evoking specicresponses,Art should ... stand
alone ... and appeal to the artistic sense of eye or ear, without
confounding this with emotions ... .This idea also reframed
especially the image of a professional or at least a serious
artist. The more impoverished and unpopular a creative per-
son,notes Goins (2015;para.3)regardingthisargument,the
better their work.Similarly, art that did connect with an audi-
enceespecially via common emotionswas viewed as overly
supercial, kitsch, shallow, or easy (Pelowski, Cabbai, et al.,
Arguments can of course be made against the idea of art dis-
connected from an audience. For example, is it actually possible
to make art or to perform any human act without it somehow
referencing an other or a public? We would agree with, for
example, Hannah Arendt (1958) and say No.Fn1
However, it is
undeniable that this idea has been a persistent aspect in shaping
art-making and viewing activities. The history of modern art
notes Geldzahler (1965,p.105),is also the history of the
progressive loss of art's audience.Zangwill (1999,p.326;also
Gombrich & Saw, 1962), essentially referencing the rather deri-
sive quote that began this article, continues, noting that many
artists may view their own practice as much more personal and
introspective and insofar as [many contemporary] artists are
concerned with an audience appreciating their work (and not
just the purchase of their work),they may tend to aim for a
much more select, rightviewer, with more conceptual or eso-
teric targets for communication, and explicitly moving away
from an egalitarian relation to a general audience and attempts
to widely impart especially emotion. This argument can espe-
cially be found for art forms such as Installation art, as was
employed in the Pelowski, Specker, et al. (2020) study, which,
on the one hand, presents immersive environments that may cre-
ate complex affective reactions, but also tends to utilize modes
of expression that reject traditional mimetic or visual-pleasure-
based interpretations and, thus, may confuse or disenchant espe-
cially a lay audience (Goldie & Schellekens, 2009;Pelowski et
al., 2018). Similar arguments might also be framed from the per-
spective of the contemporary art vieweragain especially in
seriousor professional art contextswho, believing that art is
not really made for them,may also harbor no expectation that
they should feel certain emotions or make a connection with an
Artists, Viewers, and Appreciation of Contemporary
ArtAre We Typically Together in the Dark?
This then raises key questions stemming from the previous
study and touching this wider context of theories regarding
artistviewer interactions: Do especially contemporary works by
professional artists show similar or different patterns in viewer
connection, understanding, and responses regarding felt and
intuited emotion? Do they resonate similarlyor better/worse
with viewers, especially in terms of emotion?
At the same time, to what extent does it really matter what the
intentions of the artist are, or whether or not the viewer can
respond correctly?Howdothesedifferentaspectsactually
relate? One intriguing implication of the rst article was that,
regardless of what an artist intended, it may have been the sub-
jective sense of connection or intention, which was key (see also
Currie, 2011). Certainly this sense may have overlapped, in
some cases, with actual successful communication of artist
intentions, but this may have only been a secondary effect. This
aspect is also directly referenced in the present articlesleading
quote, with, however, the subtext being that the degree to which
an artwork creates such connections for the viewers may be
more or less appreciated. Such an implication was also essen-
tially made by the initial Pelowski, Specker, et al. (2020) AQ: 6nd-
ings of a felt subjective sense of understanding intention and a
clear emotional feeling, which may not necessarily require
actual objective verication (as in intention identication abil-
ity), as drivers of art positive ratings. This raises questions
regarding what aspects may viewers be actually using to guide
No human life, not even the life of the hermit in nature's wilderness,
is possible without a world which directly or indirectly testies to the
presence of other human beings(Arendt, 1958, p. 22).
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their experience. Do we nd similar results, once again, with
contemporary art?
The Present Study
In the present study we present the results of a unique oppor-
tunity to again test the ability of art to systematically evoke or
communicate emotions in an audienceand transversely, the
ability of the audience to identify and to actually feel intended
emotions from the artist. We do this at one of the most re-
nowned exhibitions of contemporary artthe 57th Biennale, in
Venice, Italy. We focused on the Italian pavilion, which con-
tained three installation artworks, each with a quite different
design, all by top international professional artists. From the
accompanying documentation of the curator, who had commis-
sioned or selected the artworks due to their presumed ability to
evoke certain, artist-intended, responses, we further prole the
as in the previous studyaroadmapforassessingtheconnec-
tion between viewer and artist.
By using the same design of the Pelowski, Specker, et al.
(2020] article, the present study served as a conceptual replica-
tion of the main research questions of: (a) do viewersin this
case a group of exhibition visitors engaging with professional
contemporary artroutinely feel emotions intended by the
artist? (b) Can viewers identify the emotion transmission inten-
tions, even if they do not personally feel the selected emotions
themselves when viewing? In turn, touching the contextual
issues involving art theory and emotion communication, we
assessed (c) whether we nd similar or quite different patterns in
these interactions and (d) how do these aspects relate to each
other and to the viewers enjoyment, understanding, sense of
connection to an artist, and overall experience?
Especially pertaining to these latter research questions, the pres-
ent study provides an opportunity to compare and revisit some of
the nuanced interrelations between the above factors. Notably, we
considered the previous Pelowski, Specker, et al. (2020) article
nding that only feelingspecic emotions, or at least reporting
the experience of feeling more emotions and a sense of artist inten-
tion understanding, were a signicant predictor of artwork enjoy-
ment (goodness ratings), whereas recognizing the emotions that
the artist probably intended did not predict higher appraisals.
However, given the conceptual nature of contemporary art, it may
be that a different relation would be found. We also tested relation-
ships between both feeling and identifying emotions, which tended
to not be correlated within individual viewers, although both
tended to be higher/lower on average for certain artworks. More
importantly, we also took the opportunity to further expand on
Pelowski, Specker, et al. (2020) in some exploratory domains. In
line with the quote that began this article, we considered the rela-
tion between feeling and intuiting emotions and intentions, regard-
less of the intention of the artist, looking instead to the subjective
viewer reports when viewing, and which could be compared with
this and the previous articles consideration of intentions, allowing
us to consider which played the more salient role as a driver of
Owing to the unique curatorial context and setting, we also
tested whether labels/accompanying information reading (in this
case a singular wall text) impacted the above research questions
or mediated the relation between viewer and artist, and which
could specically overlap with emotion or intention sharing via
art. The study also offered an opportunity to consider emotion
communication and viewer responses in a truly ecologically
valid domain. Although the previous study was held in an
exhibition-like setting, with people invited to come see the
works by artists (in this case, mostly peers), it could of course be
that such a setting did differ appreciably from a real gallery or
museum both in the potential for variety and depth of emotions,
as well as propensity for resonating with an artist-intended
emotional experience (for example, Specker et al., 2017;see
Pelowski et al., 2017, for a review). Although past studies con-
ducted in museums/galleries have of course considered emotion
(for example, Pelowski, 2015;Pelowski et al., 2017;Specker
et al., 2017), a systematic focus on investigating if intended
emotion reactions actually reach the perceiver had not yet been
The study involved a nal sample of 113 participants (52 male,
60 female, one other; M
= 37.04 years, SD = 15.33). All were
convenience sampled from among the visitors to the Biennale,
constituting individuals who had come of their own volition and
without any foreknowledge that they would be participating in our
study. The majority of the participants came from Europe and
from other Western countries, with a handful from Asia and the
Middle East. They had a range of art interests and previous train-
ing (see Results section for further discussion). All included par-
ticipants were comfortable speaking and, more importantly,
reading English, and completed the survey in this language. Partic-
ipants were not paid or given other renumeration for their partici-
pation. The nal sample was reduced from an original collection
of 150, with 37 individuals removed from the analysis because of
either not completing all portions of the survey or showing dif-
culty in understanding the language or questions. The study fol-
lowed the guidelines of the Declaration of Helsinki and the ethics
committee of the University of Vienna. All individuals completed
a written informed consent before participating.
StimuliArt Exhibition and Artworks
The stimuli, once again, involved three distinct artworks by
leading professional artists, embedded within a major exhibition
showcasing the most important contemporary art, and further
with unique access to the curator and, via her writings, the
artistsown intentions for imparting specic emotional experien-
ces. The setting for the study was the Italian Pavilion at the 2017
(57th) Venice Biennale. The Biennale consists of a number of
separate pavilions maintained by individual countries or institu-
tions and, in general, with an aim to represent the cutting-edge
art of that country or to explore a current key concern or issue
(Vogel, 2010). This setting is one of the worlds most renowned
exhibitions of contemporary art and thus a perfect setting for our
above research target.
The Italian Pavilion is contained in the old Arsenale, a Medie-
val shipyard complex that is one of the two major sites of the
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Biennale. The building itself (seeF1 Figure 1)wasdividedinto
three rooms, each with one large installation artwork, each by a
different artist, and separated by doorways with oor-to-ceiling
hanging curtains. The structure of the exhibitionwith its divi-
sion into rooms and lack of views into other spacesthus nicely
duplicated some key conditions that might be employed in more
controlled settings (that is, as in Pelowski, Specker, et al.,
2020), allowing us to test the experiences with the different
works of art separately. Equally important, the actual selection
of the three artists was done by a curator, Cecilia Alemani, who
was chosen to direct the 2017 Italian Pavilion installation, and
with her overall aim specically framed around the conveying
of specicemotionalexperiences,whichthemselveswerepart
of the original artistsdesigns for their pieces. These intentions,
and the curatorsthought process in selecting the artworks,
were extensively documented in a catalogue accompanying the
exhibition (Alemani, 2017). This provided a record, as in the
previous Pelowski, Specker, et al. (2020) study, of intentions,
which could then be matched to the reactions of the artworks
viewers. As put by Alemani (in Vogel, 2017,p.225,italics
added): Ihopethatwhenyouenterthepavilion,youfeelas
though you have walked into the artistsminds.Importantly,
none of our participants themselves knew of this document
before or during their visit.
Specific Artworks and Intended Emotional Experience
As a general theme, the curator had used as inspiration the
book Il mondo magico (The magical world) by the Italian
anthropologist Ernesto de Martino, which also was the title of
the exhibition. This had suggested a certain notion of magic as a
device that people use to negotiate their sense of presence in the
world (Alemani, 2017,pp.1819). All three works chosen for
the exhibition were argued to each address, in their own way,
Figure 1
Setting and Stimuli, Italian Pavilion at the 2017 Venice Biennale
ENote. Artwork 1, Imitazione di Cristo (2017), by Roberto Cuoghi; Artwork 2, The Reading/La Seduta (2017), by Adelita
Husni-Bey; Artwork 3, Untitled (La ne del mondo; 2017), by Giorgio Andreotta Calò. All photos by rst author. See the online
article for the color version of this gure.
AQ: 12
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this negotiation (see Figure 2F2 for the curators wall text explaining
this general idea). In turn, as a basis for our study, we chose three
for each artwork from the catalog as core to the artistsinten-
tions, and which could serve as a means of assessing viewer
AQ: 7 The selected terms were chosen so as to be esoteric
enough so that they might not overlap between artworks and were
also not written in any of the accompanying brochures or gallery
Artwork 1, Imitazione di Cristo (2017) by Roberto Cuoghi, consti-
tuted the largest piece in the exhibition. The work presented several
stages of an assembly line for creating castings of crucixes (Christ
gures). These were cast in nearly life size molds with a biological
material resembling esh colored jelly, similar to the agar used in pe-
tri dishes. Once cast, the individual crucixes were laid out under
large clear plastic bubble material forming a long tunnel connecting
several rooms. The biological material then biodegradedshriveling
and becoming covered in mold and confronting the visitor with a
prevalent smell of decayuntil nally the shrunken crucixes were
hung on the walls within the exhibition space (see Figure 1). Accord-
ing to the catalog, the piece was expected to evoke a sense of mysti-
cism,”“reverence,and fear(Alemani, 2017,p.34).
Artwork 2, The Reading/La Seduta (2017) by Adelita Husni-Bey,
included a set of bleachers in a semicircle facing a projection screen.
On the bleachers there were blobs of a slightly soft gel-like material
resembling crude oil. Around the perimeter of the room, strands of
white Christmas-like lights, with plaster hands attached to the ends,
strewn about the oor. A visitor typically entered the room, walked
around and climbed the bleachers to nd a seat, and then watched the
video playing in a loop on the screen. The video showed scenes from
(where the artist was based) took turns turning over tarot cards and
discussing two opposing outlooks on the worldeconomic and
magic. The piece was expected to evoke a sense of empowerment,
self-awareness,and unease(Alemani, 2017,p.41).
Artwork 3, Untitled (La ne del mondo;2017)byGiorgio
Andreotta Calò, lled a long rectangular room. The visitor rst entered
the space at one end and was presented with a long, dark walk under-
neath metal scaffolding holding up a temporary ceiling, and with a
staircase lling the entire far end of the room. Upon ascending the
stairs and then turning around or sitting down on the stairs themselves,
one was confronted with an expanse of dark, still water (in fact only a
few inches deep on top of the temporary ceiling) extending out of
sight into the darkness. The expanse was accompanied by the exposed
wooden beams, brick walls, and ceiling of the building itself, and a
row of windows on the left. Alemani (2017,pp.4445) described the
space as a celestialand submergedooded landscape, which
might evoke the specicemotionsofmelancholy,”“calm,and a
jolt of vertigo ... when faced with the expanse of water.
All three artworks were generally visited in the above order (see
further discussion in Results).
The procedure for the study used a modied version of the
approach employed in Pelowski, Specker, et al. (2020). Our
research team, composed of a rotating group of two to three indi-
viduals, set up at the back entrance to the exhibition. Visitors
made their way to the exhibition and entered via the front (see Fig-
ure 1), with no foreknowledge that they might be asked to
participate, and also unable to see our research team. They then
moved through the exhibition and art rooms and were ushered
nally through a separate door at the back of the building, which
opened up into a garden and small café.
Participants were met by a researcher upon exiting and asked
whether they would like to participate in a survey regarding their ex-
perience and appraisals of the artworks that they had just seen. If
they agreed, they were taken to a bench, given the informed consent
form for the use of their answers and other data, and then asked to
ll out a survey about their experience. This was composed of three
repeated sections, with the same set of questions for each individual
artwork, presented in the order (1-2-3 above) in which the artworks
were generally encountered. Each section was also accompanied by a
representative thumbnail image of the art to ensure that participants
were certain to match their responses to the appropriate artworks.
Subjectively Felt Emotional Experience
First, participants were asked to reect back on their experience
with a particular artwork and to report on their felt emotional
responsesthat is, those feelings that participants reported person-
ally, subjectively experiencing while engaging the art. This was
accomplished by presenting participants with a list of 20 terms,
accompanied by 8-point scales (when I was experiencing the art-
work, I felt [emotion]), with an answer of 0 signifying not at all
and 17 signifying some amount of personal feeling, with 7 signi-
fying extremely high. The full list of terms included the nine terms
specically identied by the curator for the individual artworks
(see above), which were expected to be potentially evoked in a
viewer following the artistsintentions. To supplement this, we
included 11 other terms (sad,disgusted,angry,embarrassed,
threat,thrilled,inspired,safe,pride,amused,happy) selected
based on previous discussions of main basic emotions/affective
responses (for example, see Pelowski, Specker, et al., 2020;Rose-
man et al., 1990) to provide a wide representative range of possi-
ble feelings. The 11 items, which were also selected to provide a
general balance of positive and negative valence, were also
employed in the previous Pelowski, Specker, et al. (2020) study.
The list of ller terms was also chosen so as not to overlap with
the nine target emotions (for example, omitting close adjectives
such as fear and horror) to present a clearer test of affective com-
munication between artists and viewers.
Note, although we here used the designator emotionto refer to the
selected reactions identied by artists/curators and assessed in viewers, we
also acknowledge that a good deal of ongoing debate surrounds the topic of
specic ontological distinctions between, for example, what designates
emotionsfrom moodsor more general hedonic, body, or even
cognitive responses. Although many of our terms are more or less classic
emotions in psychological literature, some of the terms (such as vertigo,
self-awareness,etc.) would present edge cases. However, although the
debate of what exactly constitutes an emotion and which designation
should be given to our selected terms is of course important (see e.g.,
Fingerhut & Prinz, 2020 for aesthetic research-related discussion), this is
beyond the scope of the present article. Rather, here our aim was to use a
descriptive list of factors that viewers and artists might share within their
subjectively felt or perceived experience. All of the selected terms,
regardless of ontological provenance, are among those that have been
routinely used in past empirical studies involving art, suggesting that
participants can reliably answer whether they subjectively felt these ways
or consider them to be related to formal artwork aspects (see Pelowski,
2015; also, Carstensen et al., 2000 for non-art-related contexts).
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In addition to the main list, we also asked two separate ques-
tions regarding general felt amount of emotional arousaland
overall felt negative-positive emotional valence(following the
circumplex model of basic affect, Russell, 1980).
Identification of Artist-Intended Emotional Responses
Upon completing the above list of personally felt responses and
turning the page, the viewer was then asked to stop, go back, and
revisit the same 20-item list again and to subsequently identify
those responses that the viewer thought were intended by the artist
by answering the question, which of these terms do you think the
artist was specically trying to transmit to you via the artwork,
regardless of whether you [the viewer] had actually felt that way?
Participants could answer by circling any of the 20 terms that they
thought the artist had intended. They were also informed that they
could circle no terms if they thought that none applied.
Artwork Appraisal
Participants were then asked to rate the artworks using nine bipo-
lar 7-point scales (for example, 1 = bad,4=neither,7=good).
As also described in Pelowski, Specker, et al. (2020), these were
based on the Semantic Differential instrument of Osgood et al.
Figure 2
Wall Text/Label for the Exhibition
ENote. Text and map/label located on wall near main entrance to the Italian Pavilion, near Artwork 1. The other rooms contained
no extra text. The text reads as follows: Il mondo magico presents the work of three Italian artistsGiorgio Andreotta Calò
Robert Cuoghi, and Adelita Husni-Beywho demonstrate a new faith in the transformative power of the imagination and an in-
terest in magic. Through myriad references to fancy, fantasy, and fable, they turn art into a tool of inhabiting the world in all its
richness and multiplicity. The title of the exhibition is borrowed from the book Il mondo magico by Neapolitan scholar Ernesto
de Martino, who conducted seminal research into the anthropological function of magic. De Martino spent years studying a range
of rituals, describing them as a means through which individuals try to regain control in times of uncertainty and reassert their
presence in the world. Il mondo magico, written during World War II and published in 1948, ushered in a series of reections on
a body of beliefs, rites, and myths that de Martino continued to explore for decades, as one can see from both his Southerntril-
ogy (Morte e pianto rituale, Sud e magia, La terra del rimorso) and the collection of writings posthumously published as La ne
del mondo. Within the landscape of contemporary Italian art, Andreotta Calò, Cuoghi, and Husni-Bey use magic as a cognitive
and expressive device for reconstructing reality, forging complex personal cosmologies. For these three artists, magic is not an
escape into the depths of irrationality so much as a new way of experiencing the world. And while they do not share any particu-
lar stylistic tendency, they do share the impulse to develop complex aesthetic universes that eschew the documentary-style narra-
tive found in much recent art, relying instead on a form of storytelling woven from myths, rituals, beliefs, and fairy tales. Il
mondo magico therefore sees the artist not just as a fabricator of works and objects but above all as a guide, interpreter, and crea-
tor of possible worlds. Like the ritual described by de Martino, the works of Andreotta Calò, Cuoghi, and Husni-Bey present sit-
uations of crisis that are resolved through processes of aesthetic and ecstatic transguration. If one looks closely, these works
offer up the image of a countryboth real and fancifulwhere ancient traditions coexist with new global languages and vernac-
ulars, and where reality and imagination melt together into a magical new world.
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(1957)AQ: 8 and have been shown to provide a good means of assessing
a range of appraisals and reactions to art. Scales were selected to
cover main evaluative and hedonic ratings (uglybeautiful,
antpleasant,sadhappy) as well as terms typically connected to
stimulus potency and activity (potentimpotent,activepassive,
strongweak; see Berlyne, 1974;Pelowski, 2015, for previous use
and discussion with art). Also following Pelowski, Specker, et al.
(2020) study, participants provided answers to the questions: Did
you understand the artists intention?”“Did you feel a sense of the
artists presence?”“Did you think about the way the artist must
have felt when making the art?(7-point scales: 1 = strongly dis-
agree,7=strongly agree). These were intended as a check of em-
pathic awareness or sense of general connection to or concern for
the artist among viewers.
Art Interest, Demographics, Previous Exposure to
Artworks/Wall Text Reading
Finally, participants were asked about their previous training
in art, and general frequency of visits to art galleries or museums
(following Leder et al., 2014), as well as their level of education
and basic demographics (age, gender, nationality). Because the
rst artwork contained overt religious themes (decomposing
Christ gures), which were thought to be potentially troubling
for certain visitors, we also asked for visitorsreligion and the
general importance of religion to them. Participants were also
asked if they had ever seen or read about the artwork before vis-
iting it (both with yes/no questions for each artwork with accom-
panying box for short answer explanation). Finally, participants
were asked whether they had read the wall text accompanying
the exhibition. As can be seen in Figure 2, which reports the text
verbatim, this text, written by the curator, again did not include
any of the target emotions or descriptions of desired ways to ex-
perience or respond to the art. Rather, it broadly introduced the
exhibit theme and supporting book. This text constituted the only
provided supporting information and was located at the main en-
trance near Artwork 1.
Most viewers engaged with all three of the artworks: 100% (113)
saw Artwork 1; 81.4% (92) saw Artwork 2; and 90.3% (102) saw
Artwork 3. In the latter case, participants indicated that they had
skippedeither Artwork 3 or 2 by moving through the rooms to
access another work or to exit. Only three individuals did not see
both Artwork 2 and 3. In total, 84 people saw all three artworks.
The nal sample of participants also showed a generally high
level of data quality, with a check of answering patterns for overly
monotonous (that is, using all or nearly all of the same number
for a section) not revealing any issues. We did nd that a number
of participantsprobably because of the nature of the survey
design, which, when moving from the felt to the identied-as-
artist-intended emotion questions, required participants to stop
and revisit the previous section and circle identied items rather
than relisting all emotion terms in a new sectionhad omitted
answering the artist-intention questions. Where possible, all partic-
ipants, even if not seeing all art or answering this one specic
question, were retained in the following analyses. Subsamples,
where these occur, are reected in the degrees of freedom for the
following assessments.
The following results are broadly separated into (a) descriptive
statistics/conrmatory analyses, which largely follow the previous
study of Pelowski, Specker, et al. (2020) and directly address our
main research questions, and (b) new exploratory analyses, as sug-
gested at the end of the introduction, and which represent exten-
sions from the past study. We label the latter category to alert the
reader. Note also that all results are reported as uncorrected for
multiple comparisons. However, we provide information regarding
whether results would survive such (Bonferroni) corrections
throughout the results section. We also provide effect sizes and,
where applicable, CIs for all main results. Throughout the results,
we also compare main results to the Pelowski, Specker, et al.
(2020) article. We treat the individual artworks as separate cases
throughout most of the analyses, rather than collapsing the data.
This followed the earlier Pelowski, Specker, et al. (2020) proce-
dure and was also based on our aim of assessing the interactions
between viewers and individual art/artists. An alpha of .05 was
used as a general guide for reporting analyses.
Participant Background and Demographics
The participants, in general, had a high educational background
(37.2% had nished a bachelor's degree and 35.4% a masters
degree or higher; only two people had not nished high school).
Just over half of the sample (56.6%) had no training in Art History
or art making. Of those who did, most (31.0% of total sample) had
nished a bachelor's degree in Fine Art or Art History, with only a
handful either having a Masters degree (9 people) or a Ph.D. (3
people). About one quarter of participants (23.9%) indicated that
they made art professionally and 24.8% of participants indicated
that they made art as a hobby (thus, together accounting for about
half, 48.7%, of the total sample). The remainder of participants did
not indicate that they made art in any capacity. In response to the
question of how often individuals visited art galleries or museums,
the mean score was 4.65 (SD = 1.52), corresponding to once every
one to three months. Fn3
These results, in conjunction with the gener-
ally olderas compared with a typical studentsample (M
37.04 years, SD = 15.33) and the slight overrepresentation of
women (53.1%), thus corresponded very closely to previous nd-
ings regarding typical visitors to institutional art settings, espe-
cially for contemporary art (Hanquinet, 2013; see Pelowski et al.,
2017, for a review).
The majority of participants (59.3%) was raised in a Christian
faith. However, when asked to indicate the importance of religion,
most gave low ratings (M= 2.32, SD = 1.63 on the 7-point scale
where 1 = not at all). Only 15 people provided an answer on the
positive (57) side of the scale (two individuals answered 7, very).
Only seven participants reported having seen one of the artworks
before. This appeared to have been related to local news coverage
of the exhibition. A very small handful (n= 9) had read about one
of the artworks before, with seven of these individuals noting that
this had been with regard to Artwork 1 in a local newspaper. Two
individuals (neither of whom had indicated having seen the art-
work before) had read about Artwork 3. Zero people had read
A4on our scale represented once every 3 months and a 5
represented once per month.
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about Artwork 2. While inside the exhibition, 51.3% (n= 58) of
the participants read the wall text/labels.
General Artwork Ratings
Mean ratings of the artworks are shown inF3 Figure 3. As
expected, the ratings of relative pleasantnessand happy/sad
valence showed a range of responses. Artwork 3 tended to be rated
the most pleasantas well as beautiful.Artwork 1 tended to be
rated as more uglyand unpleasant.Artwork 2 was rated closer
to the midpoint for the above scales. All three artworks were gen-
erally positively rated with hedonic/evaluative terms—”good,
interesting,”“meaningful.However, Artworks 1 and 3 were
notably higher than Artwork 2, especially for the latter two scales.
Artworks 1 and 2 were also rated as more potent.On the other
hand, Artwork 3 was rated as quite passive.A repeated meas-
ures MANOVA, comparing all ratings between the three artworks,
showed a signicant difference between the rooms across the pat-
terns of appraisals, F(16, 180) = 14.105, p,.001, h
= .556,
with univariate comparisons also showing differences in most of
the scales, especially those noted above (see Figure 3).
As was found in the Pelowski, Specker, et al. (2020) article,
answers to the questions regarding viewersfelt subjective under-
standing of or thoughts about the artistsintentions or experiences
(right side, Figure 3) also tended to differ between artworks.
Repeat measures ANOVA revealed signicant differences for
thought about the way the artist must have felt when making the
art,F(2, 144) = 3.912, p= .022, h
= .052, with Artworks 1 and
3 notably higher than Artwork 2. The same was found for viewer
answers that they felt they could understand the artist intention,
F(2, 136) = 8.467, p,.001, h
= .111. Feeling a sense of the
artists presenceshowed the same general pattern between art-
works, but was not signicant, F(2, 144) = 2.133, p,.122, h
Confirmatory Analyses
Did People Report Feeling Emotions Intended by the
Artist More Than Other Nonintended Emotions/States?
Moving to our main research questions, F4Figure 4 displays the
group means, medians, and boxplots for all terms as reported by
viewers, and regarding their own subjective felt experience with
the three artworks. The terms highlighted in red were those speci-
cally identied by the artist as intended to be evoked in the
As can be seen in the gure, each artwork did evoke a generally
different pattern of emotional responses. Artwork 1 had as its
highest noted responses unease,”“mysticism,”“melancholy,
and disgust.Artwork 2 viewers noted calm,”“safe,”“mysti-
cism(actually identied as intended by the artist/curator) and
happyas the strongest feelings. Whereas, Artwork 3 had calm
(intended), inspired,”“mysticism.and amusedas most noted
Figure 3
General Ratings of Artworks and Perceived Sense of, and Thoughts About, the Artist
ENote. * (right) signicant difference between artworks for answers to item as assessed via repeat measures ANOVA). See the online article for the color
version of this gure.
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Figure 4
Viewer-Reported Emotions Personally Felt When Viewing Artworks and Perceived to be Intended by the Artist
ENote. Dotted line represents group mean of reported subjective feeling; horizontal line represents group median reported feeling; ovals/% represent per-
cent of viewers who identied each emotion as probably intended by the artist to be evoked in a viewer; red circles/labels represent emotions actually
intended by artist based on written curator description. Note also the absence of a bounding box for the Emotional valencefactor for Artwork 2 is at-
tributable to the majority of participants providing a 0answer to this question. See the online article for the color version of this gure.
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responses. Notably, as indicated by their general leftward position
in the lists of Figure 4, especially Artwork 1s and 3s artist-
intended emotions indeed tended to be among those noted as also
being most strongly felt by participants, although of course with
other not-specically intended emotions in the mix. Whereas Art-
work 2s intended emotions were more toward the middle of the
list. All artworks tended to have mysticismas one of the highest
noted terms, perhaps supporting the curators overall magic-
related theme. As can also be seen in Figure 3 (right side), Art-
works 1 (M= 4.89, SD = 2.09) and 3 (M= 4.99, SD = 2.37) tended
to elicit more general emotional arousal,as compared with Art-
work 2 (M= 3.41, SD = 2.19).
To test whether people felt the emotions intended by the artist
more than those that were not-intended, we followed the procedure
of Pelowski, Specker, et al. (2020), comparing the average
reported subjective amount of feeling of the three terms identied
as intended for each artwork versus the average reported feelings
of all other terms. The results are illustrated inF5 Figure 5 (left side).
Paired ttests, conducted separately for each artwork, showed sig-
nicant differences for Artwork 1, t(110) = 4.51, p,.001, 95%
CI [.33, Inf], M
= .43, d= .42, and for Artwork 3, t(98) =
6.85, p,.001, 95% CI [.69, Inf], M
= .88, d= .67, both
indicating that participants indeed reported feeling intended emo-
tions more. Artwork 2, on the other hand, did not show signi-
cance, t(79) = .76, p= .22, 95% CI [!.084, Inf], M
= .07,
d= .07. The ttest results for Artworks 1 and 3 were also found to
survive a Bonferroni correction for multiple comparisons. As can
be seen, the effect sizes were quite large and the condence inter-
vals excluded 0. This would indicate a rather robust effect. By
comparison, the Pelowski, Specker, et al. (2020) article, using the
same 8-point scale, showed mean differences of 1.233, 1.124, and
-.414 for its three artworks.
Note that the decision to analyze the results in separate ttests,
rather than via a repeat measures ANOVA (as was used in the ear-
lier Pelowski, Specker, et al., 2020 article), was attributable to the
number of individuals who had not seen all three artworks (espe-
cially Artwork 2). A subsequent assessment focusing only on the
84 individuals who had seen all three artworks, however, returned
similar patterns of signicance.
Could People Correctly Identify Artist-Intended Emotions
Figure 4 also displays the percentage of viewers who identied
terms (by circling them) as probably intended by the artist, regard-
less of whether or not the viewer had actually experienced feeling
them. These are indicated by attened ovals with the correspond-
ing percentage of yesanswers across all viewers shown above.
As can be seen, here as well we found a range of answers and
between-artwork differences. With Artwork 1, the most noted
responses were mysticism(identied by 40% of viewers, and
also indeed intended by the artist), unease(38%, however, not
actually intended), followed by self-awareness,”“threat,and
disgust.For Artwork 2, the most noted emotions were inspired
(20%), mysticism(17%), empowered,and self-aware(both
12%, with only the latter term in fact actually intended). Artwork
3s oft-noted terms included vertigo(30%, and indeed intended),
mysticism(24%), inspired(22%, both not actually intended),
and so on.
To assess the above results, we again followed the approach
used in Pelowski, Specker, et al. (2020), employing procedures
from signal detection theory (see also Dubal et al., 2014). Each
individual emotion term was treated as a separate binary yes/no
question, and participant answers were coded as either correct
hits(the viewer had circled a term on the survey that the artist
Figure 5
Mean Reported Subjectively Felt Emotions During Art Engagement Comparing Between: (Left Side) Those Terms Actually Intended
Versus Not Intended by the Artist; or (Right Side) Those Terms Thought by the Viewer to be Artist-Intended Versus Those Thought to
Be Not Intended
Note. * denotes signicant differences based on repeat measures ttest, p,.05. See the online article for the color version of this gure.
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had also indeed indicated as intended), correct rejections(the
viewer thought the emotion was not intended and the emotion was
indeed not intended), false alarms(the viewer thought the emo-
tion was intended, however the emotion was not actually
intended), or misses(the viewer thought the emotion was not
intended, however it in fact was). SeeT1 Table 1 for a breakdown of
answers for each artwork. In general, most viewers selected only a
few emotions as intended for each artwork (M= 2.0 to 2.47 across
the artworks). The maximum number of emotions selected by any
individual was seven, of 20 possible, in only one case. This pattern
is also reected in the decision criterion statistic (C,Table 1),
which measures an individuals likelihood of using yes(circled
emotion, signied by a more positive nonzero score) versus no
(no circle) responses, and also suggested that participants tended
to take a rather strictalbeit similar between artworksapproach
to providing yesanswers.
Looking to the actual selections, as was found in Pelowski,
Specker, et al. (2020), people were quite good at identifying emo-
tions not intended, with a correct rejection rate (that is, not circling
when this was the correct action to do) for all three artworks of
over 89% and a combined correct guess rate (yesþno
answers) of 79% to 84% (well above a chance level of 50%). This
compared very similarly with a combined correct answering rate
of 73% to 89% in the earlier article. Note however, as was also
argued in the previous article, these totals obviously are partially a
result of the low number of yesanswers, as described above, in
conjunction with the comparatively higher number of cases where
anowas in fact a correct choice (17 of 20 terms for each
At the same time, looking to the actual emotion selections, For
Artwork 1, just under half of the viewers (47.2%) could correctly
identify at least one of the three target emotions (again, likely
mysticismas shown in Figure 4); 13.2% identied two of three,
and with the participant sample correctly identifying 21.8% of all
possible yescases). For Artwork 2, 37.0% correctly circled at
least one emotion and 6.5% identied two (mean hit rate =
18.3%). For Artwork 3, 22.0% identied at least one and 4.9%
identied two emotions (mean hit rate = 18.2%). No individual
correctly identied all three target emotions for any artwork. Per-
haps even more telling, when individuals did choose to actively
circle a particular emotion, they were correct 26.4% of the time
for Artwork 1, 27.5% for Artwork 2, and 27.4% for Artwork 3.
This can be compared against a chance level for being correct
when circling of 15% (3/20)thus, 1.76 to 1.83 times better than
chance. These results compared against the previous Pelowski,
Specker, et al. (2020) ndings of 2.68, 2.33, and 0 (no individual
in the sample ever identied an intended emotion) for the three
Finally, we calculated a sensitivity index (d0) for each viewer
and artwork, independently. This considers correct hits across both
yesand nochoices and, importantly, accounts for the actual
yes/nocorrect answer imbalance as found in the present study.
Cases where the ratio of false alarms or correct hits was 0were
adjusted using a loglinear approach (following Hautus, 1995). The
group d0means are reported for each artwork in Table 1 (a d0of 0
would signify no sensitivity or random chance yes/no answering; a
positive score indicates some ability to correctly detect yes/no
answers; a negative score would suggest a systematic detection of
differences between intended/not-intended emotions, however
with answers made consistently in the wrong direction). All art-
works had a generally positive sensitivity among viewers. A one-
sample ttest against 0(chance) was signicant for all three art-
works: Artwork 1: t(48) = 5.39, p,.001, 95% CI[.31, .67], d=
.97; Artwork 2: t(19) = 3.78, p= .001 95% CI [.24, .83], d= .69;
Artwork 3: t(32) = 7.89, p,.001, 95% CI [.52, .88], d= 1.89. All
results were also found to survive a Bonferroni correction.
Emotion Feeling and Artist Intention Identification
Consistency Across Artworks and Within-Viewer
Following Pelowski, Specker, et al. (2020), we then assessed
whether the emotion identication/subjective feeling scores
showed consistency across artworks for specic viewers, as well
as considering between-factor interactions. Note that, because of
Table 1
Distribution of Viewer Correct/Incorrect Identifications Regarding Presumed Artist-Intended and Non-Intended Evoked-Emotions and
Signal Detection Statistics
AQ: 13
MNo. of
selected, of
20 possible
Hits (artist
yes).(% of
possible (3/
(artist no,
viewer no).
(% of possible
False alarm
(artist no,
viewer yes).
(% of possible
Misses (artist
no).(% of
Correct guess
viewer =
yesanswer) d' M (SD)CM(SD)
Artwork 1, Imitazione
di Cristo, R. Cuoghi 2.47 (1.61) 32 (21.8%) 744 (89.3%) 89 (10.7%) 115 (78.2%) 79.2% 26.4% 0.487 (0.632) 0.979 (0.316)
Artwork 2, The
Reading/La Seduta,
A. Husni-Bey 2.00 (1.56) 11 (18.3%) 311 (91.5%) 29 (8.5%) 49 (81.7%) 80.5% 27.5% 0.535 (0.633) 1.070 (0.32)
Artwork 3, Untitled (La
fine del mondo), G.
A. Calò 2.18 (1.45) 18 (18.2%) 539 (96.1%) 55 (9.8%) 48 (88.9%) 84.4% 24.7% 0.702 (0.511) 0.938 (0.339)
Note. Total and percentage results for hits, correct rejections, false alarms, and misses are based on aggregate score of 49, 20, and 33 participants for
Artworks 1, 2, and 3, respectively. M, d', and Cstatistics based on averaged scores across all participants for each artwork.
Correct guess rate (yesþno) refers to the percentage of correct hits and correct rejections from the total amount of guesses (in this case 744/980).
Correct guess rate (when viewer = yesanswer) refers to the percentage of correct guesses from the total amount of guesses where the viewer actively
circled an emotion term (indicated yes)i.e., correct hits out of combined number of hits þfalse alarms (32/121).
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the number of cases where one particular viewer did not see all
three rooms (see above), leading to a smaller sample, the reader is
cautioned if making inferences with the following results. Rather,
this is provided mostly for comparative purposes.
To assess within-participant consistency in identifying/feeling
intended emotions, we followed Pelowski, Specker, et al. (2020)
by calculating Cronbachs alphas across artworks. Much as in the
previous study, this showed comparatively low consistency for
both the felt intended versus not-intended emotion difference
scores (a= .032) as well as for the sensitivity index (d0) regarding
ability to identify artistsemotion intentions (a= .214). By way of
comparison, the previous article results had been .488 and .319,
respectively. On the other hand, we found comparatively higher
within-participant consistency for general magnitude of reported
felt emotion arousal (a= .622; Pelowski, Specker, et al., 2020
score = .731), again regardless of artist intentions or specic emo-
tions, across the artworks.
In addition, much like the previous article, assessment of corre-
lations (Pearson productmoment, two-tailed) in individual partic-
ipantsanswers calculated with the mean scores across all three
artworks (shown inT2 Table 2) did not show signicant relations
between the felt emotion difference scores, emotion intention iden-
tication scores (d0), as well as other (i.e., sense of artist presence,
etc.) factors. Signicant correlations were, on the other hand,
found between general magnitude of reported emotional arousal
and feeling that one understood the artist intentions, had a sense of
the artistspresence, and actually reported feeling more the emo-
tions intended by the artist, but not with ability to identify intended
emotions. Almost the exact same patternboth the overall lack of
signicant relations between feeling/identifying factors and signif-
icant relations with general arousalwas also found in the earlier
Pelowski, Specker, et al. (2020) article.
Intended Emotion Identification/Feeling With Professional
Artists/Contemporary Art Viewers Versus Students: Was
There a Notable Difference?
T3 Table 3 includes a brief summary and comparison of the main
results from both the three installation art pieces by student artists
as published in the earlier Pelowski, Specker, et al. (2020) article
and the present studys results with professional artists and con-
temporary art viewers. As can be seen, and as was also alluded to
throughout the analyses above, the results appeared largely similar
between the studies. Averaging across the three example artworks
in both studies, participants tended to positively rate the artworks
at similar levels (if even a bit higher in the student study). They
tended to report feeling that they understood the artist intention
again at similar levels, as well as feeling the artist presence, and
showed very similar abilities to identify intended emotions. Partic-
ipants in the earlier student study did tend to report thinking more
about how the artist might have felt when making the art, whereas
those in the present, professional artist study tended to report feel-
ing higher emotion arousal in general. However, the ranges of
results when considered for individual artworks tended to largely
We also considered whether the above-discussed factors might
differ, in the present study, as a product of, for example, previous
art training. However, ttests with art training (Y/N) as the differ-
entiating variable did not show signicance for emotional arousal,
understanding of intention, felt artist presence, d0scores, or feeling
more the emotions intended by the artist (all ps = .318.969).
Emotion Sharing/Understanding and Ratings of the Art
We then considered whether the above emotion arousal, identi-
cation of artist emotion arousal intentions, and subjectively feel-
ing intended emotion factors coincided with positively rating the
art. To assess this, we conducted a series of regression analyses
with bad-good(17) ratings of the artworks as the dependent
variable and using the following predictors, which had also been
employed previously: (a) difference scores between subjectively
felt artist-intended versus nonintended responses, (b) d0scores for
ability to identify presumed artist-intended responses, (c) individu-
alssubjective feeling that they understood the artistsintentions,
and (d) general amount of emotional arousal. Results are reported
in T4Table 4, both displaying results if individual predictors were
included alone in separate regression models and also based on a
multiple regression (forced entry method) with predictors together.
(Note that, because of the large number of missing results for the
d0scores, this factor was not included in the multiple regression
models). Despite the moderate correlation between some factors
as shown in Table 2, all predictors showed variance ination factor
(VIF) scores of ,1.3, suggesting low, acceptable multicollinearity
levels. Similarly skew and kurtosis of the dependent variables
were within acceptable ranges.
Across all three artworks, a signicant or nearly signicant (see
Table 4,
p,.10, for Artwork 2) relation was found for subjec-
tively feeling that one understood the artist intention, as well as
for general amount of emotion arousal (regardless of the specic
emotions/intentions). Interestingly, feeling more those responses
Table 2
Correlations Between Viewer Subjective Artwork Understanding, Objective Artist-Emotion-Intention Identification Sensitivity (d0), and
Subjective, Felt Emotion Measures
General emo-
tional arousal
Felt emotion intended
versus not intended
(Dif. score)
Guessing emotion
intention (d')
artist intention
Sense of artist
General emotional arousal
Felt intended vs. not-intended emotions (dif. score) .286**
Identified emotion intention sensitivity (d')!.004 .225
Subjective understanding of artist intention .375** .205 !.138
Sense of artist presence .381** .155 !.028 .653**
Note. All measures based on Mscores from interactions with three artworks. Correlation coefficients refer to Pearson product moment, two-tailed.
** p,.01, uncorrected for multiple comparisons.
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actually intended by the artist and, to an even more pronounced
extent, ability to actually identify artist intentions were not signi-
cant predictors. These results compared similarly to the earlier
Pelowski, Specker, et al. (2020) article, which had also reported
that subjectively feeling that one understood the artist intentions
(Artwork 3) and general emotion arousal (Artwork 1) were signi-
cant predictors for some cases, whereas identifying correctemo-
tion responses were similarly not signicant predictors of good
art. However, feeling the artist-intended emotions more was also a
predictor for one artwork in the previous study. The consistency of
the two signicant predictors is also much more pronounced in the
present results.
By way of comparison, exploratory regressions with previous
art education (Yes/No) as the predictor returned nonsignicant
results for all three artworks with effect sizes of one-half to one-
third that of the signicant predictors above (see Table 4).
Exploratory Analyses
Did Reading the Wall Text Influence Emotion Feeling/
Finally, we conclude with two exploratory analyses. First,
we considered whether reading the wall text with the general
Table 3
Comparison of Main Emotion Identification/Feeling Results and Effect Sizes With Artworks From Professional Contemporary Artists
(Present Study) Versus Art Students (Pelowski, Specker, et al., 2020)
Art bad-
about way
artist felt
Felt artist
Dif. score, felt
versus not-
intended emotion
d', Identification
of artist emo.
Standardized score ver-
sus chance, guessed artist
emotion correct when
choose yes
Professional artists: Current study
Artwork 1 4.35 (1.66) 4.20 (1.76) 3.75 (1.81) 3.57 (1.75) 4.89 (2.09) 0.43 (1.18) .487 (.63) 1.76 x chance
Artwork 2 4.11 (1.34) 3.22 (1.79) 2.99 (1.67) 3.19 (1.62) 3.41 (2.19) 0.11 (0.79) .535 (.63) 1.83x
Artwork 3 5.32 (1.81) 4.09 (1.84) 3.61 (1.82) 3.66 (1.95) 4.99 (2.37) 0.88 (1.26) .702 (.51) 1.83x
All artworks, M4.59 3.84 3.45 3.99 4.43 0.47 0.58 1.81x
Art students: Pelowski, Specker, et al. (2020)
Artwork 1 5.31 (1.48) 4.11 (2.25) 4.62 (1.9) 4.92 (1.92) 3.64 (2.15) 1.23 (1.28) .78 (.40) 2.68x
Artwork 2 5.25 (1.34) 4.13 (2.33) 5.03 (1.74) 4.44 (1.83) 4.53 (2.36) 1.12 (1.01) .62 (.47) 2.33x
Artwork 3 4.59 (1.33) 3.16 (2.23) 3.91 (2.11) 3.32 (1.83) 3.35 (2.34) !0.41 (.87) .63 (.55) 0
All artworks, M5.05 3.80 4.52 4.23 3.84 0.61 0.68 1.67x
Table 4
Regression Analyses of Subjectively Felt Emotions, Objective Artist-Emotion-Intention Identification Sensitivity (d'), and Felt
Understanding of Artist Intention as Predictors of GoodBadAppraisals of Three (Professional) Installation Artworks, Italian
Pavilion, 2017 Venice Biennale
All items included (forced entry) Individual item only
Predictor Bbtp B p
Artwork 1, Imitazione di Cristo (2017), R. Cuoghi
General emotion arousal 0.173 0.224 2.290 .024* 0.279 .004*
Felt artist-intended vs. not-intended responses (dif. Score) 0.041 0.030 0.313 .755 0.150 .126
Subjectively felt understanding of artistsintentions 0.295 0.322 3.309 .001* 0.383 .000*
Identified artists emotion-response intention (d')
————!0.098 .513
Previous art education (Y/N)
————!0.003 .978
Artwork 2, The Reading/La Seduta (2017), A. Husni-Bey
General emotion arousal 0.175 0.277 2.318 .023* 0.392 .000*
Felt artist-intended vs. not-intended responses (dif. Score) 0.127 0.074 0.654 .515 0.203 .080
Subjectively felt understanding of artistsintentions 0.184 0.243 1.985 .051
0.367 .001*
Identified artists emotion-response intention (d')
————!0.015 .949
Previous art education (Y/N)
———— 0.162 .134
Artwork 3, Untitled (La fine del mondo; 2017), G. A. Calò
General emotion arousal 0.057 0.072 0.702 .484 0.197 .053
Felt artist-intended vs. not-intended responses (dif. Score) 0.161 0.112 1.115 .268 0.191 .061
Subjectively felt understanding of artistsintentions 0.335 0.335 3.162 .002* 0.386 .000*
Identified artists emotion-response intention (d')
———— 0.009 .962
Previous art education (Y/N)
———— 0.053 .610
Note. All results rotated so that positive signs suggest higher relative goodartwork ratings. Results based on sample of N= 113, 92, and 102 viewers
for Artworks 1, 2, and 3, respectively. All predictors showed variance inflation factor (VIF) scores of ,1.3, suggesting acceptable multicollinearity.
Identified artists emotion-response intention (d') not included in full model because of large number of missing reports (individual item statistics for this
factor based on sample of N= 46, 19, and 32 viewers, for Artworks 1, 2, and 3, respectively).
Previous art education provided for comparison purposes
and thus also not included in the multiple regression model.
Nonsignificant, notable trend. * p,.05.
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explanation of the main exhibition aim from the curator
impacted the differences in felt or in identied emotions of
viewers. To assess the former question, we conducted three
(one per artwork) linear regressions with reading the label
—“yes(n=58)orno(n=55)as a predictor and the differ-
ence score of intended versus not intended emotions as the de-
pendent variable. This showed a signicant effect for Artwork
=.067),notablytherst artwork seen
and also sharing the same room as the wall text, but not for the
other Artworks 2 (B=.21,p=.26,R
ing as a predictor and the d0scores as dependent variables did
not show signicant effects (all ps..05, R
.0006; respectively). Similarly lack of signicant results was
found with artwork ratings of good-bad(all ps..26, R
.006, .016, and .0001; respectively) and reported subjective
understanding of artist intention (all ps..10, R
and .005, respectively).
Feeling Emotions as a Predictor of Thinking They Were
Intended, and Vice Versa, Regardless of the Actual
Intention of the Artist
As one nal analysis, we revisited the question introduced in
the introduction of this article regarding whether artistsinten-
tions truly were such an important guide in resulting viewer art
experience, or whether the subjective experience of viewers
(decoupled from what an artist had in fact intended, if they had
in fact intended anything) might in fact be a more important
driver of resulting experience. To assess this, we rst reconsid-
ered the relationship between participantsfelt emotional experi-
ences when viewing the art and their identication of artist
intentions. That is, although general scores on these aspects did
not show a notable correlation when assessed over all viewers
and the three artworks (above), there still could be a more ne-
grained relation between felt and identied emotions, when mak-
ing actual answers to the survey, based on the viewerssubjec-
tive experience and regardless of what an artist had intended. As
arst step, we compared, separately for each room, the mean
magnitude of reported felt emotions for each viewer between
those identied as probably intended by the artist or not
intended, however again based on the viewer answers not the
actual correct answers from the artist. This approach followed
the analysis conducted on magnitude of emotions that had
actually been intended/not intended by the artist above, and thus
allowed a nice point of comparison.
Repeated measures ttests (see also the right side of Figure 5)
revealed signicant differences for all three artworks, suggesting
that individuals had indeed reporting personally feeling more those
emotions that they thought might be intended by the artist: Art-
work 1, t(48) = 6.84, p,.001, 95% CI [1.39, Inf], M
1.84, d= .97; Artwork 2, t(18) = 2.79, p,.05, 95% CI [.38, Inf],
= .66, d= .69; Artwork 3, t(31) = 10.56, p,.001, 95%
CI [2.36, Inf], M
= 2.85, d= 1.87. By way of comparison,
the effect sizes for these results were more than twice as large as
those found when considering actual artist intention above (.42,
.07, .67 for Artwork 1,2, and 3, respectively). Furthermore, this
effect was consistently found across all three rooms (whereas
actually intended emotions did not have an inuence on experi-
ence emotion for Artwork 2).
As a second step, we considered the potential direction of
effectthat is, did feeling the emotions lead to thinking they
were intended, or the other way around? To assess this question,
we conducted a multilevel logistic regression in R using the
glmerfunction of the lme4 package with magnitude of
reported viewer feeling for each emotion term and Artwork (1, 2,
or 3) as predictor variables and the yes/noanswer that a viewer
gave regarding whether they thought the emotion was intended/
not-intended as the dependent variable, and including nesting
within person and within Artwork. Fn4
This showed a signicant
main effect of feeling the emotion, personally, on choosing that
emotion as indeed intended (B=.48,p,.001, R
1.112). Fn5
Individual Artworks did not show signicant differences
(Artwork 1/intercept B= .48, vs. Artwork 2 B = .031, p=.890,
Artwork 1 vs. 3 = !.29, p=.114).
A similar model with the predictor and dependent variables
switchedin this case, using the yes/noanswer for each emo-
tion that it was thought to be intended by the artist as a predictor
of the magnitude of personally feeling that particular emotion
led to a similarly signicant main effect (B= 2.03, p,.001, R
.102, d= .67). Note, however that the Cohensd(as well as the
) was roughly half that of the model above, suggesting that feel-
ing an emotion was a better predictor of guessing artist intention
than the other way around. Fn6
As assessed above, a consideration of
cross-artwork consistency in differences in magnitudes of reported
felt emotions between items that viewers personally thought the
artist had intended versus did not intend was also quite high (a=
.752, compared with a= .032 for feeling more actual artist
intended emotions), suggesting again that this aspect tended to be
a consistent factor in individualsexperiences, regardless of the
reference artwork.
Given these ndings, we were curious whether a similar pattern
occurred in Pelowski, Specker, et al. (2020). Therefore, we reana-
lyzed this data, which showed similar results: Artwork 1 (as coded
in original article), t(16) = 5.369, p,.001, 95% CI [1.688, Inf],
= 2.50, d= 1.40. Artwork 2, t(27) = 8.64, p,.001,
95% CI [2.16, Inf], M
= 2.69, d= 1.63; Artwork 3 t(17) =
4.697, p,.001, 95% CI [1.62, Inf], M
= 2.58, d= 1.26.
These results again showed difference scores at least two times
those found when comparing feeling emotions as actually
intended/not intended by the artist (see Table 4).
This strategy was chosen to account for the nesting within the
Artworkfactor (e.g., Happywas felt as a reaction towards Artwork 1,
or 2, or 3) as well as the nesting within persons (we wanted to know if the
happiness Person A felt predicted if person A thought that the artist wanted
them to feel happyand not if this predicted the identied emotion of
Person B).
was calculated using the r2_nakagawa function from the
performance package and using the related approach by Nakagawa and
Schielzeth (2013). We report the marginal R
here because we were
interested only in the xed-effect of the magnitude of felt responses.
Conversion to Cohensdwas done to make a more direct comparison with
the prevision analysis. The conversion was done using the provided
conversion tool at
Here, we also detected some signicant differences based on the
Artworks, with Artwork 2 showing a smaller relation than the other works
(Artwork 2 B=!0.68, p= .003; Artwork 3 B= 0.097, p= .59; Artwork 1 =
reference category).
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This article replicates the design of an earlier study (Pelowski,
Specker, et al., 2020), which had presented evidence, using three
examples of installation art, that viewers could often report feeling
emotions specically intended by an artist and could also identify
which emotions had been intended even if not actually feeling
these themselves. Employing three distinctly different artworks
from the 2017 Venice Biennale, we found the same basic pattern
of results as in Pelowski, Specker, et al. (2020). Viewers were
quite good at identifying how they were intended to feel by the
artistwith answers (selected from a list of 20 terms) well above
chance for all three artworks. Viewers also reported feeling those
responses (from the same list) intended by the artist signicantly
more than other possible feelings, once again in two out of three
artwork cases. This latter result, but not simply identifying
intended emotions, was also found, in between-artwork compari-
sons (i.e., in Artworks 1 and 3, see Figure 3), to coincide with gen-
erally higher ratings of subjectively thinking one understood the
artist intention, thinking about how the artist must have felt when
making the art, as well as with generally more positive ratings of
the artworks. Whereas, in the case of the artwork not showing as
high feeling of intended emotions (Artwork 2), viewers, as in the
previous study, also found it to be generally less meaningful/
interesting, to evoke less sense of subjective understanding and
thoughts of the artist, and also had more viewers who skipped the
artwork entirely.
Looking within individual artwork cases, we also found that
especially the subjective factors of believing that one understood
the artist intention and feeling more emotions, although not neces-
sarily the correct(artist-intended) ones, predicted ratings of art-
work goodnessroutinely for all three artworks. As was found
previously, we also found low, nonsignicant correlations between
the felt emotion difference scores and the emotion intention identi-
cation ability, low within-participant consistency (Cronbachs
alphas) for these factors across the artwork cases, as well as simi-
lar sizes of effect (see Table 4) between this and the previous arti-
cle, albeit with a range of results suggesting notable inter-artwork
differences. The art evaluation and the emotion identication and
feeling results were also not shown to be impacted by reading a
provided wall text from the curator or by previous training in art.
These results offer a general support of the previous study, sug-
gesting once again that viewers do often show the ability to feel
and to identify emotions intended by an artist. In its basic ndings,
this study therefore adds one more piece of evidence for the key
role of empathic connections or emotion sharing and communica-
tion with a range of media (Miu & Baltes!, 2012;Zickfeld et al.
2017), including now, in a replication, with visual art (Pelowski,
Specker, et al., 2020). The feelings and identication of artists
emotion intentions found here are also in line with past research
that has shown that individuals may often generally agree on or
pick out the emotional valence or the specic emotional avor of
music, patterns, or colors (e.g., Dubal et al., 2014;Takahashi,
Equally intriguing, in the present study, these emotion connec-
tions were found to be quite possible even with contemporary in-
stallation art, itself often deemed rather unapproachableor
difcult for a general audience, and with different art examples
each with different emotional proles and intentions. The results
were accomplished by professional artists, although in a very simi-
lar fashion to the previous studys students and viewers, and sug-
gesting that creating and responding to emotional connections or
aspects may be a rather general aspect of art engagement, largely
supporting an expressivetheory of art-making and especially
viewing, and highlighting these connections as an important factor
in our art enjoyment (see also Freedberg & Gallese, 2007;Gom-
brich & Saw, 1962;Kozbelt, 2006). We also present this evidence
for such connections and processes from a truly ecologically valid
art setting.
Thus, the present study, in conjunction with the earlier Pelow-
ski, Specker, et al. (2020) article, suggests that such emotional
connections and emotional processing and understanding may
mark a key target for art educators, museum study, curators, and
empirical aesthetic research. The ndings also provide additional
evidence for the general ability of humans to decode and subjec-
tively respond to emotional information in our environment, pro-
viding connections between art interactions and general studies of
empathy or emotional contagion(Singer & Lamm, 2009), espe-
cially in the case where a viewer is not responding to a human
face, body, or even overt mimetic information, but which may be
saliently investigated with visual art.
Back to the Individual, Alone and Together, in the
DarkNew Implications for Art and Artists
At the same time, this article also raises further implications
or more often questionsregarding how emotion identication
and feeling might relate, which we briey discuss below.
As had been implied in the initial Pelowski, Specker, et al.
(2020) study, and as was expanded here, there does appear to be
evidence for a rather interesting disconnect in the emotion process-
ing factors, especially as these inform art ratings and interpretation
of intended experience. Although again we do nd a general rela-
tion, at the artwork level, between generally more positively rated
artworks and more feeling of intended emotion, when assessing
the individual viewers appreciation of specic artworks (as
assessed via good-badrating scales), the most robust predictors
proved to be subjectively feeling that one understood the intention
of the artists as well as feeling generally more emotion itself.
Actual ability to identify emotion intentions, and feeling emotions
that had been artist-intended, did not prove to be signicant drivers
of appreciation. A similar nding was reported in Pelowski,
Specker, et al. (2020) article, which also found that subjectively
feeling that one understood the artist intentions (Artwork 3) and
general emotion arousal (Artwork 1) were predictors for two
cases, whereas identifying correctemotion responses was never
a signicant predictor of goodart. We also nd a lack of correla-
tion between ability to identify or feel more artist-intended emo-
tions and subjective sense of intention understanding, whereas
feeling more emotion in general and feeling one understood inten-
tions were again correlated. A similar pattern was also found in
the earlier article.
This relationship also emerged, perhaps even more saliently, in
the present articles new exploratory analysis. This suggested that
individuals tended to actually report feeling those emotions that
they thought were probably intended much more than those
thought to not be intendedat an effect size roughly double that
of the actual objective artist intentions. Regression analyses further
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showed that the feeling of emotions, rst and foremost, tended to
be a better predictor of identifying than vice versa. A reanalysis of
the earlier Pelowski, Specker, et al. (2020) results also revealed
largely the same outcomeswith both individuals reporting per-
sonally feeling emotions that they thought were intended as a
much stronger driver of difference than artistsactual intentions.
Feeling more emotion and using emotion to guide ones subjective
interpretation also showed much higher between-artwork consis-
tency across participants. A similar argument could also be made
for the previous articlesnding that sharing the artistsfelt emo-
tional experience, which could not be tested in the present article,
was also a consistent predictor of better art (Artworks 2 and 3),
but which had a high correlation with general emotional arousal
and subjective sense of understanding intention of the artist.
Put together, we might say that, indeed, to some extent it may
be the individual, alone in the dark, who, individually, reconsti-
tutes the artist intentionsand the subjective feeling that there is
some intention or communication to be foundthat is key, at least
at the level of art appreciation. This in turn appears to be largely
led by the subjective, emotional experience.
These ndings add an intriguing wrinkle to discussions of art
viewing, making, and empathic engagement. Certainly, this damp-
ens somewhat the argument for a direct line between artist and
spectator, as had been argued as a counterpoint to expressive theo-
ries (see, e.g., Currie, 2011), but does not completely erase this.
Viewers do appear to be thinking of intentionality and artist pres-
ence as part of their approach to art viewing and, as documented
now in two studies, this subjective feeling does partially overlap
with artist intentions, or, as found in the previous study, even the
artistsown subjective emotional journeys. However, when it
comes to actually evaluating and perhaps connecting art to inter-
pretation, the subjective aspects of a viewers interpretation, and
their own feelings seem to have primacy.
Interestingly, these results are in line with other arguments, both
in and outside of art, that such ability to create and respond to an
implied otheror sense of intentionality is a basic act of human
understanding (e.g., Freedberg & Gallese, 2007;Gell, 1998). For
example, Gell (1998) argues that it is this act of continuously con-
structing intentionality, or abducing agency,that is the driving
force for human information processing, as well as for apprecia-
tion of art. We approach art objects (and members of a larger
class of indexes of agency)he notes, as ifwe have access to
another mind”” (p. 15, italics added). As long as this subjectively
felt connection can be maintained, this frames our responses,
maintaining the stimulus as a class of meaning-rich, important
The present ndings also connect to an emerging line of labora-
tory art research, especially comparing art by professionals against
art by children, animals, or computers. It has been routinely shown
that viewers are quite good at picking out art made by professional
artists and/or humans, which may more saliently display inten-
tional decisions (Hawley-Dolan & Winner, 2011;Snapper et al.,
2015). Artwork ratings (i.e., liking, beauty, goodness) can also be
impacted by priming informationfor example, by informing a
viewer that a work was made by an artist versus a computer
(Chamberlain et al., 2018;Kirk et al., 2009). However, if pre-
sented with only the art object, the actual provenance of the maker
(i.e., whether or not they are a real professional or even human) is
found to not be as important, especially in ratings of quality or
hedonic factors (Chamberlain et al., 2018;Elgammal et al., 2017;
see also Hong, 2018). In fact, it is a perceived intentionality
which can be reported even with, for example, computer-based
images (Chamberlain et al., 2018)and sense of clarity in expres-
sion, that may drive positive ratings (Snapper et al., 2015; also
Jucker et al., 2014).
These results also have implications for artists. A goal of pro-
ducing engaging art experience, one might say, if this is something
an artist wants to do, might be to produce a work that appears to
be communicating or evoking something, strongly and clearly.
What exactly is communicated, and whether this is actually what
the artist had in mind, is a secondary question. Artwe might
conclude with Degas (in The Box Hill Art Group, 2017, p. 2),
slightly modifying the general expressive theory, is not what you
see, but what you make others see”—or, it actually appears, what
you make them feel. The present article adds to these ndings and
arguments, and, in its evidence for the importance of emotional
experience as a driver of such results, may open a new avenue into
art and empathy research.
Other Implications of Questions for Future Research
Of course, this study also raises many other implications that
extend beyond the scope of the present article. An obvious question,
especially given the between-artwork differences, is how artists
might do this, why certain artworks were more or less successful,
and why certain emotions tended to be more or less better commu-
nicated or foregrounded in viewer experience. For example, why
did many people feel uneaseor mysticismwith Artwork 1?
What about the formal features made it quite easy for many people
to pick out vertigoas intended in Artwork 3, but, at the same
time, for very few viewers to identify an intended sense of melan-
choly? Why did Artwork 2 tend to lead to less of a subjective
sense of artist intention understanding? Such questions are both a
fascinating and, we would argue, a vital topic for art research, in a
sense sitting at the base of much discussion regarding how art is
received or made. However, an answer is also very complex (e.g.,
see Fry, 1939), Fn7
raising the potential contribution of a large number
of factors.
Specker et al. (2020) recently reported a study that attempted to
tease apart individual features of abstract paintingssingle lines
or patches of colorand showing that, although consistent pat-
terns may be found for individual aspects (see also Van Paasschen
et al., 2014), and even for individual paintings, there are not clear
connections between the reactions to overall artworks and their
constituent parts. Rather, viewers do seem to be responding to a
number of features that combine into an, admittedly more or less
clear,gist. Similarly, there may be a large number of personality
factors or contextual aspectsart setting, viewer expectations
For example, the inaugural lecture as Slade Professor of Fine Art in
Cambridge in 1933 by Roger Fry (1939,p.15):[T]he work of art ...[is] the
liaison in a transaction which takes place between the artist and the spectator.
That transaction is liable to all sorts of accidents which render it more or less
imperfect ....Ifwetakeananalogyfromthewirelessthe artist is the
transmitter, the work of art the medium and the spectator the receiver. Now
for the message to come through, the receiver must be more or less in tune
with the transmitter. And herein lies the difculty, for the message of a work
of art is generally immensely complex.
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which probably contribute to the suggested connections, and all of
which should be the focus of much future, systematic study.
That said, we might reiterate and expand on one suggestion also
made in the previous article. It does again seem to be that it is the
felt experience that is guiding especially the interpretation. Thus,
artists may need to create the grounds for such connections in their
art. This could suggest that certain featuresan overall gist or
emotional tone, colors, as opposed to more descriptive or even
mimetic contentare relatively more important, and generally
supports arguments that evocative qualitiesexpressiveness, pas-
sionrather than representational or stylistic techniques alone
may lead to more intense, clear expressions and also enjoyment
(e.g., see Elkins, 2001).
AQ: 9
Such an argument for emotion-related aspects, from the per-
spective of artists, has been put forth in current models of art mak-
ing. In his mirror model,Tinio (2013; see also Pelowski et al.,
2017, for expansion and review) suggests that basic processes of
art making and viewing may operate largely in reverse. Art mak-
ing moves from broad conceptual ideas to implementing them in
visual details, whereas the viewing starts with visual perception
and then moves to a conceptual understanding. He proposes that in
the rst step of making (initialization), which requires artists to
successfully block in the basic gist of an artwork and which, in
turn, forms the key aspect of nal viewer meaning-making and
judgment, it is emotive qualityand claritythat may be key
factors, although again the actual connection of these theoretical
arguments to specic formal features was not dened. It may also
be that the degree to which artist perhaps feels emotion and uses
this as a guide for their own making could successfully allow such
a result. These arguments may in turn partially explain why many
individuals tend to not respond positively to certain artforms such
as conceptual art, which may employ different design features
(Goldie & Schellekens, 2009). Such a result, for example, might
have been found in our present studys Artwork 2.
For the viewer, the ndings can be connected to arguments for
the importance of subjective awareness of body states in guiding
meaning-making (Dunn et al., 2010;Prinz, 2007), or for art recep-
tion as an interoceptive, embodied, predictive experience (Aze-
vedo & Tsakiris, 2017). This might, for example, support past
empirical ndings that use of affective primes may positively
modulate art appreciation (Prinz, 2007). These may help clarify
emotion patterns to a viewer and thus leading to subjective feel-
ings that they understandart. This may also be connected to the
Pelowski, Specker, et al. (2020) nding that higher trait empathy
(online simulation) in viewers predicted feeling more emotions in
general, which again correlated to higher ratings, but again not
necessarily feeling the correctemotions intended by an artist.
Future studies might consider many similar interpersonal factors
emotion contagion, interoception abilitywhich could impact
these processes.
Similar questions could also be framed around the nature of the
specic emotions. Are certain types of emotions more or less eas-
ily communicated or evoked? Past studies have shown some gen-
eral differences in ease of identifying certain emotions from visual
patterns (e.g., Takahashi, 1995). Our present study also found a
range of emotion-related differences. However, to date, we do not
know of an attempt to connect these differences to some theoreti-
cal basis. Briey looking to the emotions used in the present study,
and considering general classicationsfor example, primary
emotions, more social or knowledge-related emotions, other phe-
nomenal responses, positive/negative valence (see, e.g., Fingerhut
& Prinz, 2020)no such clear patterns appear to emerge. In fact,
one of the reasons why this is an outstanding question, and one of
the selling points of the present article, is that most studies that
have looked into emotional responses have used stimuli where,
due to lack of access to artists, there is no correct answer to be
found. Using a paradigm such as that of the present article may
open up this intriguing area of research.
Finally, of course, the suggestion that artists might focus on
communicating emotion to a viewer, and that emotion may be a
key factor in appreciation, also brings us back to many arguments
against the expressive theories, and raises the implication that such
overly direct emotional expressions are exactly the basis for criti-
cism of certain art types, such as kitsch (see, e.g., Pelowski, Cab-
bai, et al., 2020), Fn8
which is also shown to be generally more liked
among a lay (broader) audience. This raises interesting questions
about the limits or conditions for emotional expression to drive
appreciation and potential impact of interpersonal difference.
However, the present ndings that, for example, art training did
not play a signicant role in the detected effect, and the studys
included artworks, which would most likely not be mistaken for
kitsch, also suggest that these factors contribute to a complex
The article of course includes other caveats and many other
topics for future study. The study design, now largely replicated
with another art set and type of viewers, was still very exploratory
and calls for further, more expansive investigations. Although the
ecological validity of the present study was a key aspect, it would
also be interesting to take the essential design into the lab with a
more controlled focus and larger number of stimuli interactions to
provide more robust measures of the underlying processes and
interpersonal/stimuli differences. Of course, researchers also need
to consider whether it would be possible for viewers to have these
more complex emotional responses to reproductions of artworks
(see Specker et al., in press). Studies should also further look into
the nuanced relation of feeling and identifying affective factors to
tease out how these might interrelate or to consider causality in
artwork appraisals and reactions. This study also has implications
for museum or curatorial studies. As noted in the present case,
beyond a small relation with Artwork 1 regarding feeling more the
artist-intended emotions, no impact was found from the label read-
ing on either the subjective or objective empathic aspects or on art
evaluations. Such a lack of clear effect has been found especially
in past museum-based research (e.g., Pelowski et al., 2017 for
review), especially involving didactic information as was largely
used here. It would be interesting to consider how telling individu-
als what the artist intentions were would impact the resulting expe-
rience. Although we used contemporary art, the selected artworks
clearly did have specic intentions as communicated by the cura-
tor. It would be interesting to employ art examples made by artist
Discussions of kitsch specically argue that it is bad precisely because
of its ability to directly communicate clear emotion and not other (more
contemporary art-critically important) concepts or meaning. As put by
Umberto Eco (in Nerdrum, 2001, p. 18): kitsch passes itself off as artistic
communication. But since the fundamental project is ... simply to
overpower ...or promote a special effect ...kitsch acts as an intrinsic lie.
The present article would suggest that it is precisely the special effect
that might be important!
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who truly reject any communication attempt or interpretation (e.g.,
see Danto, 1981).
It should also be noted that the chain of connections from
viewer to artist, regarding intended responses, also of course itself
may have introduced some ambiguitybecause these were ulti-
mately based on a curatorsreport of the intentions regarding the
artworks. Future studies might further test these connections, once
again, in controlled paradigms with more clearly dened or
specic intentions. At the same time, this complex relationship
involving collaboration between curators and artists, we would
argue, in fact represents the realities of a major exhibition as in the
biennale or, one could equally argue, even a typical museum, and
thus this article again may be used as a basis for further consider-
ing these complex interpersonal, art-mediated relationships.
In sum, it is our hope that this article will provide one more
datapoint and useful resource of methods for a topic which, in our
minds, marks a key, still underexplored aspect of appreciating,
making, and interacting through art to uncover the actual connec-
tion between the viewer and artist.
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