Visual Psychology of Art
Deadline: 12th January 2020
The various agencies of art are well known to archaeologists and anthropologists, forming a conceptual core for much scholarly research into past human symbolism and visual culture. From the miniscule to the megalithic, art, symbol, decoration and design have an antiquity of at least 65,000 years, and are frequently seen as one of the most distinctive non-biological expressions of human behaviour. Over this vast period, all human groups across the world have possessed archaeologically and ethnologically documented visual culture, and explaining what factors lead to the creation of specific forms of art is a key objective of archaeology. Why was visual culture ubiquitous to human societies, and why did it take the forms it did?
One group of factors that might help us understand some important features of visual cultures has been neglected until recently; the psychological challenges that faced individuals in their everyday lives, and the psychology of their engagement with the world. Discoveries in modern psychological science can help us understand what specifically might attract the attention of people living in a particular environment, be it that of a hunter-gatherer, agriculturalist or urbanite. What might they see, and what might they neglect, and what might they give cultural meaning to?
Psychological perspectives on past visual culture are growing in importance across the archaeological community. In a world where multi-disciplinarity is increasingly encouraged, collaboration between visual psychologists and archaeologists working in all periods and places should hold considerable potential for unlocking the various ways in which art taps in to the human brain. Exactly how does visual culture function as an active agent upon the brain’s interpretative faculties, and on the viewer’s sense of place, self, and participation in the world?
How repetitive is art, and how does this reflect the brain’s propensity for seeking reassurance in the familiar? What natural ‘triggers’ stimulated the production of art, and how constraining were they? Was art meant to be read plainly and easily, or did it require overcoming the problems of difficult resolution? Was the viewer intended to be installed as a participant in the art, and was the art intended to alter, stimulate or challenge the viewer’s sense of self?
We welcome submissions that consider the role of the viewer/participant in visual culture, and the psychological bases and effects of art from all periods from the Palaeolithic to present, which attempt to develop the means to generate and test hypotheses in this area. We particularly welcome contributions that forward testable hypotheses, or present experimental psychological approaches to these questions.