People all around the world are drawn to creating and consuming art, and human emotions are often a central subject in visual artworks as well as in music and performance art. However, the mechanisms underlying the feelings that art evokes remain poorly characterised.
A new study reveals how viewing visual art affects our emotions. The research subjects viewed different kinds of artworks and described the feelings that the art stimulated in their bodies. The researchers recorded the subjects’ eye movement while they viewed the art. In addition, the subjects assessed what kind of emotions each piece of art evoked.
'Viewing the art evoked many different kinds of feelings and emotions in people. Even though many of the pieces handled sad or scary topics, the emotions that the people experienced were mainly positive. The bodily sensations evoked by art also contributed to the emotions: the stronger the body's reaction was to the artwork, the stronger were the emotions experienced by the subject,' says Professor Lauri Nummenmaa from the Turku PET Centre at the University of Turku, Finland.
'In the artworks, human figures were the most interesting subject and were looked at the most. People have a tendency to empathise with each other's emotions and this is probably also the case when we view human figures in art. The human emotions presented in art pieces can be absorbed by the viewer unnoticed, through so-called mirroring,' says Academician Riitta Hari from Aalto University.
Altogether 1,186 people from different countries participated in the study and they assessed the emotions evoked by over 300 artworks. The research was conducted with online surveys and eye movement recordings in the laboratory.