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  • Visual Aesthetic Experience
  • Elisa Steenberg, Independent Scholar

Man can shift his attitude to the surrounding world into an experience of its visual appearance. He perceives colors, lines, shapes, etc.—at times denoted as form. Furthermore, these phenomena may be experienced as having various properties. A color may be experienced as warm or cold, as cheerful or somber; a line as soft or hard, as merry or aggressive; a shape as light or heavy. Moreover, such experiences may include pleasure or displeasure, implying that what is experienced is liked or disliked. The individual has a preference value experience. This should not be confounded with an evaluation, a value judgment, which requires cognitive activity and a comparison. The experience described I designate a visual aesthetic experience.

Research into processes in the brain may offer explanations of the neurological antecedents to the visual aesthetic experience. To see a color as cold or warm may depend on sense-interrelating processes. To experience a color or line as cheerful, somber, etc., might be explained as due to simultaneous processes in the regions of the brain that are the mainsprings of emotions. The preference valuations might be due to processes in the brain's so-called primary reward-aversion center. It seems most likely that future brain research, with the help of such techniques as PET scanning (Positron Emission Tomography) or MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging)—what has been called "windows into the human brain"—may offer explanations regarding the physiological and biochemical processes that happen when our attitude to the world around us is shifted into what is here designated a visual aesthetic experience.1

When did man first evince visual aesthetic experiences and when do they first occur in an individual's life? Certain anthropologists assert that positive visual aesthetic experiences first occurred when man was able to experience form as symmetrical and balanced, colors as bright and possibly shiny. This they claim is due to balance and order being a fundamental condition in man's life, and preferences for bright colors they consider due to man being a daylight creature who feels insecure in darkness.2 We know that so-called primitive people and young children like symmetric patterns and bright colors. The child reaches out for light red and yellow objects rather than for dark and black ones. With increasing age, though, the child's [End Page 89] visual preferences usually change, and this occurs mainly within the framework of his or her manmade surroundings. The child becomes accustomed to seeing certain objects while feeling pleasure and thus comes to appreciate their appearance. However, such experiences are rather vague before the child reaches the age when its personality is formed. Then especially girls often develop a keen interest in the appearance of objects around them.

A general survey among adults shows that there are considerable varieties in individuals' inclinations for visual aesthetic experiences. There are those who have them rather seldom. Their attitudes to the surrounding world are primarily cognitive. Their attentions are focused on meanings, the "what" not the "how," in order to understand and to cope with what they see. On the other hand, there are individuals who most frequently hold an aesthetic attitude to their surroundings. They pay attention to shapes, colors, and color combinations of all kinds of objects, natural or manmade. They choose their clothes and their home furnishings under careful aesthetic considerations. This inclination may possibly be claimed to be due to an innate disposition for holding visual aesthetic attitudes, to be compared with, for example, an individual's innate musicality. However, it is undoubtedly also due to certain social circumstances.

Visual aesthetic experiences are denoted taste manifestations. As such they may be investigated not only as to their occurrences and changes in an individual's life but also as a changing sociocultural phenomenon.3

Verbalizing the Visual Aesthetic Experience

The psychic content of a visual aesthetic experience may be revealed to other individuals by application of aesthetic property terms to the appearance of objects. The terms are either what is here called descriptive or they are value terms. Examples of descriptive aesthetic terms are graceful, garish, gaudy, clumsy, elegant, dainty, vivid, flamboyant, etc. These terms may...


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pp. 89-94
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