Evaluating Methods of Aesthetic Enquiry across Disciplines

Principal Investigator
Dee Reynolds, School of Arts, Languages and Cultures, University of Manchester

Nick Pearce, History of Art, University of Glasgow
Helmut Leder, Psychological Basic Research, University of Vienna
Charles Spence, Experimental Psychology, University of Oxford
David Howes, Sociology and Anthropology, Concordia University
Etienne Jollet, Histoire de l’art, Université de Paris I: Panthéon-Sorbonne
Boris Wiseman, English, German and Romance Languages, University of Copenhagen

Brief Description

This Network will evaluate contrasting methods of aesthetic enquiry across disciplines. Using case studies, scholars with different views on the ‘aesthetic’ and diverse and complementary sets of expertise, will seek to identify nodes of congruence/conflict in aesthetic enquiry across disciplines in Humanities, Social Sciences and Cognitive Sciences. Through assessing disciplinary strengths and weaknesses and delineating intersecting research questions and fields of enquiry we shall generate new dialogues and propose productive strategies for transdisciplinary enquiry. Moreover, aesthetics has been framed in Western contexts and we will seek to work across cultural as well as disciplinary boundaries.

Context and aim of the programme

There has recently been a plethora of conferences/publications in aesthetics research involving links with studies on embodiment and the senses in cognitive science. The perceived ‘universalism’ and oculocentrism of aesthetics have been discussed in anthropology of art, museology, and philosophical and sociological studies.
Although these disciplines often start from different premises and methodologies, there are important convergences, including the role of senses other than vision and the search for factors that might ground aesthetic preferences along a spectrum ranging from the neural to the historical and the socio-cultural.
Neuroaesthetics (Zeki 1991, 2001) is attracting wide attention and controversy, and encourages neuroscientists to explore art. Organizations focusing on aesthetics and cognitive sciences include an International Network on Neuroaesthetics. A recent AHRC-funded project investigated challenges posed by experimental aesthetics to the Anglo-American aesthetics tradition.
Empirical aesthetics was a topic for the second conference of the AHRC-funded network, Cognitive Futures in the Humanities (2014). Other recent conferences in the field include Le sensible à l’oeuvre: The body between aesthetics and neurosciences, 2014; Neurosciences, Esthétique et Complexité, Paris, 2013; The Artful Brain, workshop of Centre for the Study of the Senses, London, 2013; Neuroscience conference on Beauty and Value, Berlin, 2013). Neuroscience research is increasingly seeking greater ecological validity (Jola et al 2011, Cross and Ticini 2012) and taking more cognizance of artistic contexts (Bullton and Reber 2013; Swami 2013). Some humanities research on art has been informed by neuroscience, notably study of the senses (McConachie 2008; di Benedetto, 2010), although there is also scepticism about the validity of this approach (Martin 2010, Conway and Rehding 2013).

The proposed network will aim to:

• Identify key ‘nodes’ of congruence and dissension between disciplines;

• Provide a meta-level of critical activity, to identify/map emerging directions and themes

• Delimit what types of questions the background, training and methods of participants best equips them to answer;

• Address issues posed by cultural differences for constituting the field of aesthetics;

• Identify sets of intersecting fields within which disciplines can be meaningfully grouped based on distinctive approaches
(e.g. experiential, cognitive, contextual, critical);

• Elucidate how best to co-ordinate questions/answers across different fields of enquiry;

• Examine institutional frameworks in our respective contexts and how to best work within and across them.

• Provide innovative working tools and strategies for future research, thereby making a real difference to the field.

• Produce a pilot transdisciplinary study.

This International Research Network is funded by The Leverhulme Trust