Ambiguity and Incongruity in art and science

Organizer: Qasim Zaidi

Ambiguity has multiple meanings and, in the sense of having many different connotations without a logical basis of choosing between them, is a central theme in theories of art and literature that make the viewer or reader contribute to the production of a work of art, considered to be a process not an object. Twentieth Century artists such as Redon and Duchamp wrote directly about aiming for ambiguity, but many earlier famous paintings, such as La Gioconda, have also had their allure attributed to ambiguity. Incongruity in art also has a long tradition as unexpected combinations of existing objects to evoke new realities, dream states, and a myriad
of feelings. Some Surrealist works, such as the Bust of Voltaire, explicitly play with ambiguity between incongruous objects. Scientists, on the other hand, strive to eliminate ambiguity in their work. Scientists and mathematicians do experiment with unexpected combinations, but the aims are often to link disparate phenomena by finding common causes or to create more powerful techniques. Opposition in aims thus sets up an interesting dialectic for the scientific analysis of responses to art which contains ambiguity or incongruity.

Speakers: Branka Spehar, Alessandro Soranzo, Katja Doerschner and Qasim Zaidi

The Curvature Effect

Organizers: Alessandro Soranzo and Marco Bertamini

It has been known for a long time that humans like smooth curvature in shapes and objects. Artists have not only exploited this phenomenon, but also written explicitly about it as in the case of Hogarth (1753). Hogarth suggested that there is a right amount of curvature that would capture grace and beauty. Within the research literature this effect is often referred to as the „smooth curvature effect (Bertamini et al., 2015). Many experiments have confirmed the finding and extended it to a variety of different populations to support its universality (Chuquichambi et al., 2022; Gómez-Puerto, 2017). A recent study has tested directly the stimuli that were included by Hogarth in his book (Hübner, & Ufken, 2022), confirming that observers have a preference for a certain degree of smooth curvature. There is also some evidence of a preference for curvature in non-human animals (Munar et al., 2015). Outside the laboratory where the typical stimuli are very simple, there have been some studies of design style (Leder & Carbon, 2005; Soranzo et al. 2018), design drawings (Sinico, Bertamini & Soranzo, 2021), actual artworks (Ruta et al., 2021), as well as clinical studies (Leder, Tino & Bar, 2011). Despite the large amount of data corroborating the preference for smooth curvatures, there is still a lack of agreement among researchers about the explanation for the cause of this effect. First, it is still under debate whether this preference is a secondary effect of disliking angular shapes (the threat hypothesis; Bar & Neta, 2006, 2007) or whether it is a genuine preference for curvature (Palumbo, Ruta, & Bertamini, 2015). There is evidence for both factors, and they can indeed both coexist. Second, it is still unclear whether this effect can be considered an „aesthetic primitive“, that is an intrinsically interesting characteristic which resonates with the mechanisms of the visual system processing it (Latto, 1995), hence transcending time and cultures; or vice-versa, whether the effect is modulated by fashion, trends, or Zeitgeist (Carbon, 2010). Two recent studies have offered support for the idea of fundamental link between preference for smooth curvature and processing speed in perceptual tasks (Bertamini et al., 2019; Chuquichambi et al., 2020). The contributions to this symposium explore the curvature effect from different perspectives and try to address these open questions. The contributions range from tackling the smooth curvature effect measuring aesthetic preference in complex stimulation to studies on artistic paintings with curved shapes.

Speakers: Nicole Ruta, Erick G. Chuquichambi, Enric Munar, Letizia Palumbo and Jurate Rimiskyte

Digital Borderlines in art

Organizers: Marius H. Raab and Claus-Christian Carbon

Digital artworks are hardly constrained by materiality, time and space, but only by technological progress. The artistic expression can be brought to the physical domain on a modern LED or an ancient CRT screen, it can be visualized in an actively explorable VR environment, it might be visually present via a 3D print, or it might even be re-coded to be experienced via auditory or haptic signals. The possibilities seem infinite; and yet, crossing the analog-digital border introduces massive limitations. Those stem from restrictions imposed by the discrete, binary representation of continuous information. They are also due to the radically different and limited possibilities of human-computer interaction during creation. Refined tools and techniques of conventional visual arts, like brushes and paints, offer much more subtle modes of artistic nuance than their virtual counterparts. This blend of material freedom and digital constraint introduces aesthetic experiences and Semantic Instabilities that justify a particular research program. The borderline between analog and digital realms will be this symposium’s focus. Artists who routinely wander between those two aesthetic worlds will contribute their points of view. Psychologists will share their latest research on semantic instabilities, analog-digital perceptual experiences, and perceptual peculiarities of non-material aesthetics. Together, they will outline an avenue for future research where contemporary phenomena like pixel art, retro aesthetics, Artficial Intelligence Art—AI-Art, and meme culture are systematically studied. This symposium brings together artists and psychological experts.

Speakers: Ludwig Hanisch, Steve Braun, Marius H. Raab and Claus-Christian Carbon.