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Biological basis of aesthetics

Lee Thompson lee at soda.berkeley.edu
Fri Oct 4 04:23:59 EST 1991

In article <28EBB33B.5096 at deneva.sdd.trw.com> jay at nyssa.coyote.trw.com (Jay Nelson) writes:
>There are some things that are fairly universal.  Look at the book
>_Drawing on the Creativity Within_ by Betty Edwards (the sequel to
>_Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain_).  She has different people
>attempt to draw emotions or concepts using only abstract lines.  Some
>of the results are: peaceful = horizon lines, femininity = curved
>lines, anger and power = strong dark lines, energy = zigzag lightning
>lines.  I think there is something more strongly associated with the
>environment that we live in.  A sunset is very peaceful (horizon
>lines).  Lightning has an exciting energy (or scary to some).
>	[poster's person approach to art deleted]
>Jay Nelson  (TRW)  jay at wilbur.coyote.trw.com

The most obvious confounding variable I see in the above example is that
the people drawing those lines were from western cultures.  Considering
that some common optical illusions are perceived differently by people
from different cultures, I'd have to wonder about the validity of the
above as a good example of a biological basis for aesthetics.

Example:  the horizontal-vertical illusion.  [one line with another of 
equal length at right angles to it, cuts at midpoint of horizontal line]


Both lines are the same length [forgive my poor ascii drawing], but the
vertical line appears longer to persons susceptable to the illusion.
People from environments that consist mainly of empty, flat plains are
more susceptable to this illusion than people raised in environments
that are characterised by "cluttered" horizons.  (Munroe & Munroe, 1977)

While the horizontal-vertical illusion is pretty much purely an artifact
of environment [and most likely a product of biological adaptation, see
Stryker, Sherk, Leventhal & Hirsch, 1978; Mitchell, 1980] other cross-
cultural studies have shown differences in perception of figures embedded
in a larger figure [Witkin, 1950]

It's hard to say that aesthetics are universal, when the visual hardware
is plastic.  Environment in the first two years of life can greatly
influence the development of the visual cortex and associated structures.

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>Disclaim Everything<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<
Lee M. Thompson				Ave Fortuna, Imperatrix Mundi!
lee at soda.berkeley.edu	ucbvax!soda!lee     Break out the Nomex Suits!
clueles at ucscb.ucsc.edu	ucbvax!ucscc!ucscb!clueles

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