Art

Substance vs. style: a cognitive science approach

Posted by: Tedstaff

I%27m-too-sad-to-tell-you_lr_.jpgFans of Vik Muniz may be interested to learn the results of a recent study which shows that, when we look at a painting, our brains process its content before registering its style. In the study, paintings were presented in pairs for different time lengths and the participants were asked to judge the similarity within each pair.

After just 10ms exposure, a pair of paintings were rated as more similar to each other if they had identical rather than contrasting content, but style had no bearing. [...] Beyond 50ms, content exerted no more of an influence, suggesting all content information had been extracted by this stage. However, style continued to exert a growing influence beyond 50ms, with paintings matched for style being judged as progressively more similar.

Muniz, who spoke at TED in 2003, creates art that explores the tension between style and content by way of his mind-bending, masterful use of unexpected materials — such as chocolate syrup or hundreds of colorful toys.

(Study via BPS Research Digest)

Image: Vik Muniz, Self Portrait (I am too sad to tell you, After Bas Van Ader), Rebus, 2003, 40 x 50″, c-print. Image from the West Collection.

Comments (1)

  • M. A. Greenstein commented on May 24 2008

    Quick question: By style are you meaning “form” (i.e., the structural and material aspects of a works morphology?

    The distinction here opens up a fantastic and long discussion in art history and more recently the neurology of art.

    M. A. Greenstein
    The George Greenstein Institute for the Advancement of Somatic Arts and Science