The universal laws of artistic experience

For my essay ‘An investigation into possibilities of Street Art as a medium for resistance’ the literary investigation led me to the idea of beauty. What is beauty ?

To understand more about the power of beauty I looked into a recent field of experimental science: Neuroaesthetics which aims to understand the human aesthetic experiences at the neuro-(phsychological) level.  Here brain activity associated with art and design is measured. Ramachandran and Hirstein claim to have found a set of universal laws that guide aesthetic preferences.

In my essay there is no space to go into this in-depth. I only mention the universal laws of artistic experience to state that street artists do not follow the dominant aesthetic rules, as they  primarily want to attract the attention of passers by.

But I do find this rather fascinating. It could give artists a new understanding of how arts impact the human mind. I think artists and designers already unconsciously use theses techniques. I think it would be beneficial to any designer to consciously know about these laws. To asses if they use this in their practice, maybe subconsciously on intuition or from experience and check which of these laws they would like to work with, concentrate on or deliberately avoid.

The 10 universal laws of artistic experience are:

Peak shift (how your brain responds to exaggerated stimuli such as caricatures).
Isolation (limit our attention to the object to a single “modality” for example colour)
Grouping (appeal to our desire to group the fragments of an object into a whole)
Contrast
Perceptual problem solving (making elements less visible)
Symmetry
Generic viewpoint
Repetition
Balance
Metaphors

I personally find peak shift an interesting one. It refers to magnifying what is distinctive in the object to draw our eye to it. That is maybe why sometimes a very realistic representation can be simply boring. It does not give us anything that is pleasing, exaggeration is what we like to see. Isolation has I think more to do with the idea that less is more and perceptual problem solving with the idea that the brain would like to work to solve something. We do not like it when something is too obvious. Symmetry and Balance are important as this gives the mind a rest. I think it would be interesting to asses my work  (the FMP)  to these laws.

Dialogue through street art

As a global citizen and creative practitioner I feel very much involved in and worried about developments in (western) society in general. I feel that we are very much consumed by social media and the information we find here is dictating much of what we think. At the same time these channels can be highly unreliable (facts can be twisted,  pictures can be photoshopped, film can be edited). Further more social media and the algorithms are polarising society. People are hopefully developing a healthy distrust of the media and digital world, or at least they should.

In this world that is influenced so much by the (social) media, we are consuming enormous amounts of information. This over-information is making us less inclined to read long texts and we are becoming more and more visual. People prefer simple and easy to digest information, which creates a problem as many subjects just are not simply black or white, there is a lot of grey.

Images in the street might communicate these grey areas by asking questions, not offering simple solutions.  Street art is particularly effective in communicating feelings and emotions. I feel that street art can truly add something in this current time, when most people are so visually (and digitally) orientated. It is tangible, tactile which might help us live in the real in stead of digital world. By surprising us it can help taking our glance of the phones, it might give food for thought and open up a dialogue.

It is this dialogue, face to face, off the screens, that is important. Street art can create possibilities for interaction. “Before I Die” by Candy Chang is a beautiful example of this. It is an interactive installation in New Orleans where passers-by can write down their inner desires in chalk and read about the desires of others.

Most importantly street art has a democratic value. It is placed in public space, it is free, available for all, there are no algorithms.

Street art is not commercial in essence. This artistic movement has a strong social message and often challenges the consumerist culture. Over the last few years though it has become a global art movement, fuelled by the internet. Street artists have built global fame through social media which is a good thing, this way their work has a larger audience.

The value of street art has been raised through social media. My worry is that street art falls in the trap of institutionalisation, or worse the trap of commercialism.Corporate and consumer brands have also discovered street art and are using it to sell their brands, which I find worrying. Our visual landscape already is taken over by outdoor advertising. This is a clear sign of what is going wrong in western society. The barren walls in the streets were the last place for a non consumerist, critical  and creative driven means of communication.

A movement of street artists in the UK called “brandalisme”  has picked up on this. They are targeting advertising billboards with interventions. I find this to be a very thought provoking campaign and would love to see more of this kind of resistance. It is thought provoking and opens up the dialogue.

I feel that to be able to communicate freely and truly start a dialogue, this poetic art form has to be 100% uncommercial. This is the only way to be reliable, true and authentic.

My main goal for this essay would be to investigate how street art is able to communicate on a deep and emotional level with its audience. I would like to investigate history of  street art and recent street art as a means creating a dialogue or conversation starter. Does it have an impact on the passers by ? Can it even mobilise people ? How and why ?

Secondary questions could be:

Why is it important that street art stays independent.
What happens when street art is institutionalised, is it still critical and effective or just a beautification as part of an urban regeneration. What are the effects of commercialism on street art. What happens when this street art is distributed online and used in social media,…does it have the same effect. Does this create any mistrust.