Feeling Beauty: The Neuroscience of Aesthetic Experience (MIT Press)
G. Gabrielle Starr
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In Feeling Beauty, G. Gabrielle Starr argues that understanding the neural underpinnings of aesthetic experience can reshape our conceptions of aesthetics and the arts. Drawing on the tools of both cognitive neuroscience and traditional humanist inquiry, Starr shows that neuroaesthetics offers a new model for understanding the dynamic and changing features of aesthetic life, the relationships among the arts, and how individual differences in aesthetic judgment shape the varieties of aesthetic experience.
Starr, a scholar of the humanities and a researcher in the neuroscience of aesthetics, proposes that aesthetic experience relies on a distributed neural architecture -- a set of brain areas involved in emotion, perception, imagery, memory, and language. More important, it emerges from networked interactions, intricately connected and coordinated brain systems that together form a flexible architecture enabling us to develop new arts and to see the world around us differently. Focusing on the "sister arts" of poetry, painting, and music, Starr builds and tests a neural model of aesthetic experience valid across all the arts. Asking why works that address different senses using different means seem to produce the same set of feelings, she examines particular works of art in a range of media, including a poem by Keats, a painting by van Gogh, a sculpture by Bernini, and Beethoven's Diabelli Variations. Starr's innovative, interdisciplinary analysis is true to the complexities of both the physical instantiation of aesthetics and the realities of artistic representation.
involves reward processing, both for music and for visual art. Initial work in music showed some of the strongest findings, especially around the experience of chills.43 Until recently, we had evidence only that roughly similar regions of brain activity were involved in the rewarding aspects of music and visual art, but Ishizu and Zeki have suggested that there is a significant region of overlap, which they describe as corresponding to the perceived “beauty” of both painting and music, in the
Ovid’s Metamorphoses that the poems blend novelty with beauty and cruelty with humor, and thus seem an odd aesthetic (and moral) mixture.42 Given that I maintain the centrality of unpredictable knowledge in aesthetic experience, it might seem that I have been primarily describing responses to the kind of art that, like Ovid’s, privileges novelty. One might then ask, what happens when we have already seen, heard, or read it all before? The experimental record concerning novelty and pleasure is
far in understanding aesthetics because survival is ultimately about what we can reliably predict. With musical aesthetics, rewards exist in dynamic interplay, and that dynamism involves the additive, learned evaluation of pleasures and displeasures. One way of seeing how repetition thus may be a platform for delight is by thinking about technical virtuosity. Bluegrass music offers a prime 130 Chapter 3 example of these dynamics. The easily identifiable sound of a bluegrass run or flourish is
Literaturwissenschaft Fall (2009); Ronald Paulson, The Beautiful, Novel, and Strange: Aesthetics and Heterodoxy (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995); Sianne Ngai, “Stuplimity: Shock and Boredom in Twentieth-Century Aesthetics,” Postmodern Culture 10, no. 2 (2000); and Ngai, “The Cuteness of the Avant Garde,” Critical Inquiry 31 (Summer 2005). 2. On the evolution of aesthetics, see Paul Guyer, “The Origins of Modern Aesthetics: 1711–35,” in The Blackwell Guide to Aesthetics, ed.
Cornell University Press, 1999). 41. Frank Sibley, “Particularity, Art and Evaluation,” Aristotelian Society Supplementary Volume 48 (1974), and Sibley, “Aesthetic and Nonaesthetic,” Philosophical Review 74, no. 2 (1965). 42. Equally, Robert Solomon argues that all emotions are evaluative, with similar implications for aesthetics: The Passions: Emotions and the Meaning of Life (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1993), 132–134. Hume argues that taste is based on the “finer emotions of the mind”: “Of the