Feeling Beauty: The Neuroscience of Aesthetic Experience (MIT Press)
G. Gabrielle Starr
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In Feeling Beauty, G. Gabrielle Starr argues that understanding the neural underpinnings of aesthetic experience can reshape our conceptions of aesthetics and the arts. Drawing on the tools of both cognitive neuroscience and traditional humanist inquiry, Starr shows that neuroaesthetics offers a new model for understanding the dynamic and changing features of aesthetic life, the relationships among the arts, and how individual differences in aesthetic judgment shape the varieties of aesthetic experience.
Starr, a scholar of the humanities and a researcher in the neuroscience of aesthetics, proposes that aesthetic experience relies on a distributed neural architecture -- a set of brain areas involved in emotion, perception, imagery, memory, and language. More important, it emerges from networked interactions, intricately connected and coordinated brain systems that together form a flexible architecture enabling us to develop new arts and to see the world around us differently. Focusing on the "sister arts" of poetry, painting, and music, Starr builds and tests a neural model of aesthetic experience valid across all the arts. Asking why works that address different senses using different means seem to produce the same set of feelings, she examines particular works of art in a range of media, including a poem by Keats, a painting by van Gogh, a sculpture by Bernini, and Beethoven's Diabelli Variations. Starr's innovative, interdisciplinary analysis is true to the complexities of both the physical instantiation of aesthetics and the realities of artistic representation.
unpredictable and to refine, continually, how we imagine the borders between the world of sense and our sense of self. The neural processes underlying aesthetics are complicated, xvi Preface and we are just beginning to understand them, but even with what we now know, it is possible not just to understand more about aesthetic experience and how it moves us, as well as more about the relationships between the arts, but even to begin to see more fully why it makes sense to speak of a domain of
absorbed in her inner world that she sees and hears nothing, but our seeing and hearing are different: these lines are able to make “sense” because of the sonoral characteristics of mental imagery. Imagery can work to model existing knowledge and point toward emergent possibilities because people use different strategies to make “sense” of imagined sensory experience. Some people are very good at evoking perceptually vivid images in their minds; some are not, reporting very little in the way of
auditory imagery: imagery involving music, imagery involving speech, imagery involving metrical speech, and general images of sound (some more semantically clear: dogs barking, trucks passing; some less: clicks or bangs).26 Auditory imagery may behave differently if it carries semantic information (words, certainly, but, to take one example, dogs don’t just sound, they signify, and the may signify differently Aesthetics beyond the Mind’s Eye 79 to different people) and also if it combines
senses, into the world of landscapes, of faces, and of lost music. Indeed, especially after the exhibition of the fragments of beauty that were the Elgin Marbles, early nineteenth-century discussions of fragile, remembered, imagined, or even invisible beauty increasingly tempered idealism with materialism in their awareness of the ravages of history (an example is Shelley’s own “Ozymandias,” with its ruined fragments).19 Too, Shelley is not alone in the way in which 108 Chapter 3 the tension
be nothing more than the truth of a moment? But aesthetic experience is about overturning and refining initial predictions in my account. As I have argued, the unpredicted, evolving rewards of aesthetic experience are key to aesthetic experience on a neural level, and as they are integrated into the fabric of memory and imagination, they may become part of our future predictions—our hopes and beliefs about the world. This means that the varieties of aesthetic experience are essential to what