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.
of the urn, to take Smith’s point, what fills this room is the rebounding presence of sound and language; a vivid reader’s attention may be cast back onto the baseline of poetic sound that includes meter and rhyme—words heard, imaginatively.28 The poem offers a version of vision that is commingled with sound. However, the imagery of sound itself is impure. As I described above, the experience of reading metrical speech, insofar as it is perceived as metrical, involves not just imagery of sound
imaginative space; there are always limits on the ability to attend to detail, and those limits may be even stronger for mental images than for sensory perceptions.34 We are creating everything to which we attend, and this is a demanding task that imposes large constraints on what we can see and hear, as Descartes so well knew. Imagined scenes are subject to their own limits—imagined sound, after all, only occasionally makes use of something so basic to physical sound as loudness; “ditties of no
the default mode network.45 I would submit that all powerful aesthetic experiences involve an element of the unexpected, but this does not mean that aesthetic experience expires with novelty: there are pleasures to repetition, as Zajonc and others have shown. The durable potential of complex aesthetic experience, however, emerges because it allows us to integrate unexpected or evolving knowledge in new ways, and ultimately to build on that evolving knowledge in a dynamic form of learning (one
moral or emotional knowledge may come from art, with Denise Gigante that “pleasure is its own way of knowing,” or with Berys Gaut or Gregory Currie that we can learn by imagining, by simulating problems and solutions, questions still remain.28 Peter Lamarque argues that at best, art can produce generalizations about human nature, but little in the way of specific knowledge; Michael Tye points out that our phenomenal experience itself may give knowledge of experience, but not “knowledge of any new
theories of the Sister Arts reveal an intricate landscape of aesthetic possibilities. Untangling the multiple relations between and among the aspects of aesthetic life we have seen here is complicated, for no area exists in isolation. As an example, we may take the case of the emotions of aesthetic experience: we feel them in our bodies with the quickened heartbeat of watching a dancer execute a fall; we know them in our minds through our engagement with the fears or angers a tragic tale may