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Theories of expression articulate a link between the artwork and the affective state it elicits. Aestheticians—both psychologists and philosophers—seek a “structural correspondence” between the artwork and the feeling it conveys.
Early psychological aestheticians—Heinrich Wolfflin and Gestalt theorists—considered neural “isomorphisms” and innate “sympathetic modeling” the necessary links. Dewey’s theory centered around “resonance,” another structural connection. None of these supposed links was empirically verifiable, and none actually bridged the divide between object and feeling. Early psychological experiments confirmed correlations between bodily attitude and movement, and both felt and communicated emotion; these investigations confirmed the speculations of Wolfflin as to the link between bodily movement and perceived feeling.
Recent neuroscience, in uncovering the “mirror neuron system” (MNS), has brought forward the long-sought empirical evidence of a reliable correlation between feeling and movement, valuable research for the field of dance aesthetics particularly. The neuroscientist Antonio Damasio constructs a model linking feeling to movement and thus to kinesthesia: for Damasio, feeling is kinesthesia. To understand Damasio’s model is to understand the underlying cellular mechanics of dance expression. Damasio’s model also resolves misconceptions that have brought previous models of dance expression to contradictory or otherwise untenable results. Far from urging the abandonment of phenomenological approaches to art, Damasio’s model describes the dual nature of kinesthesia, thus delivering a powerful way to understand the mechanisms working beneath the phenomenological surface, while leaving room for phenomenological speculation.