in Art, Psychology

Horror + Art = the Sublime Experience

It’s not news to those who know me that I am a huge movie buff and an avid fan of horror films. I also very much enjoy looking at art and going to art museums. In fact, an ideal day for me would probably involve a nice scary movie and a trip to the MoMA.

Researchers Kendall J. Eskine, Natalie A. Kacinik, and Jesse J. Prinz recently published a most intriguing article in the academic journal Emotion entitled Stirring Images: Fear, Not Happiness or Arousal, Makes Art More Sublime about their study that investigated “the emotional basis of sublime experiences (i.e., the experience of perceiving something that evokes feelings of astonishment and amazement) in an effort to determine which emotions underlie awe-inspiring experiences when viewing works of art” (Eskine et al.).

Painting: A Prounen by El LissitzkyEighty-Five undergraduate students acting as “participants were assigned to one of five conditions—sitting normally, engaging in 15 or 30 jumping jacks, or viewing a happy or scary video” and then were asked to rate their experience of viewing several abstract pieces by artist El Lissitsky (Eskine et al.). The study found that the fear condition (the participants which had viewed the 14-second scary video) had a statistically significant higher rating of the artwork toward the sublime experience compared to the other conditions.

 Eskine, K. J., Kacinik, N. A., & Prinz, J. J. (2012, February 6). Stirring Images: Fear, Not Happiness or Arousal, Makes Art More Sublime. Emotion. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0027200

In light of this study, If you wish to have a better experience the next time you visit an art museum, follow my idea of an ideal day and precede your visit with watching Dawn of the Dead (1978) or Possession (1981).

 The British Psychological Society: Research Digest

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