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Book Sections Year : 2013

Brushstrokes with Emotion

Jérôme Pelletier
Kenneth Knoblauch
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Aure-Elise Duret-Lerebours
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Stéphanie Dubal
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A Western Philosophical Background Pictorial art generates a rich fund of experience which involves a significant part of our mental life, from perception to cognition, from creation to reception. The emotional side of our relation with pictorial works of art is probably the least known and most problematic. This is most critical since emotions seem to be expressed by works of pictorial art and to be involved in pictorial art appreciation. As a matter of fact, one of the things that works of pictorial art do in relation to emotions, beyond representing or depicting emotions, is express emotions, such as sadness, happiness, fear, and joy as well as aesthetic emotions. This is a very general philosophical claim, sometimes referred to as the expression theory of art, which has been developed in many different ways by philosophers such as Croce and Collingwood and artists such as Tolstoy. The philosopher of art, Derek Matravers, notes that "there are various means by which a work could be expressive (none invariably successful). It might represent a person being expressive. It might represent a situation that gives a reason for being in an emotional state." And he adds that "the philosophical literature has tended to focus on ways by which a work can become expressive that do not involve the representation of states of affairs; paradigmatically, it has focused on instrumental music although there is also a small literature on expression in paintings." 2 Our aim in the AVE (Art Visuel et Émotion) project is to focus not on music but on painting and to investigate the expressivity of painting along the philosophical trend mentioned by Matravers, that is, by focusing on ways by which a work of pictorial art can express emotions in a non-representational manner. How can a work of pictorial art express emotions in a non-representational way? Commenting on the emotions expressed by a self-portrait by Van Gogh, the philosopher of art Kendall Walton makes the following intriguing suggestion: "What produces the affect in a spectator, what makes her nervous, need not be the character's fidgeting or any other properties he is represented as possessing. Features of the work itself, considered non-representationally, may do the job." 3 Two sentences later, Walton clarifies what he has in mind and refers to "features of the paint on the canvas: the busy brushwork in the background and on the jacket, the choppiness of the strokes on the face and beard." 4 Walton's remarks on the emotional responses elicited by the brushwork in some paintings have been somewhat neglected by the philosophical community. A notable exception is Gregory Currie who, in an attempt to elucidate the meaning of the term "expressive," uses as an example what he describes as "a van Gogh-like picture with (as we say) angry brushmarks" and proposes that "features are expressive in my sense if they are features visible in the work itself, and where they manifest or seem to manifest a mental state." 5 We surmise that Walton's above-mentioned philosophical suggestions may constitute a fruitful challenge for the sciences of art. On that basis, a multidisciplinary project-AVE-has been developed in order to elaborate experimental protocols from psychophysics and affective neuroscience related to Walton's suggestions. The general
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hal-03972638 , version 1 (03-02-2023)


  • HAL Id : hal-03972638 , version 1


Jérôme Pelletier, Yolaine Escande, Marine Taffou, Kenneth Knoblauch, Aure-Elise Duret-Lerebours, et al.. Brushstrokes with Emotion. Yolaine Escande; Vincent Shen; Chenyang Li. Inter-culturality and Philosophic Discourse, Cambridge Scholars Publising, pp.242-252, 2013, 1-4438-4895-6. ⟨hal-03972638⟩
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