A pilot study from a group of Dutch scientists implies that being told that an image is an artwork automatically changes our response, both on a neural and behavioural level. This may mean that our brains automatically up or down-regulate emotional response according to the whether they think something should be understood at face value, or whether it should be interpreted as art. This tends to lend support to an over 200 year old theory of art, first put forward by the philosopher Immanuel Kant in his Critique of Judgement.
First published in 1790 in his text Critique of Judgement, Kant postulated that emotional distance was needed for an individual to appreciate art. Based on the group’s findings, Erasmus University researcher Noah van Dongen now says that Kant’s theory “might have a neurological basis” and “that art could useful in our quest to understand our brain, emotions, and maybe our cognition.”
“When we think we are not dealing with reality, our emotional response appears to be subdued on a neural level,” said van Dongen in a statement. “This may be because of a tendency to ‘distance’ ourselves from the image, to be able to appreciate or scrutinize its shapes, colors, and composition instead of just its content.”
Like Van Dongen and team in the lab, pranksters at the San Francisco Museum of Art were also curious how context might affect a person’s response to everyday objects. In May, when TJ Khayatan visited the newly opened museum with friends for the first time, he was struck by the readymade sculptures on display. “Some of the ‘art’ wasn’t very surprising to some of us,” he told Buzzfeed. “We stumbled upon a stuffed animal on a gray blanket and questioned if this was really impressive to some of the nearby people.”
Khayatan decided to conduct a test of his own: he placed his eyeglasses on the floor underneath a placard and watched nearby visitors. Almost instantaneously, museum goers approached the glasses as if they too were on display—some even snapped photos.