Research in perception and appreciation is often focused on snapshots, stills of experience. Static approaches allow for multidimensional assessment, but are unable to catch the crucial dynamics of affective and perceptual processes; for instance, aesthetic phenomena such as the ‘Aesthetic-Aha’ (the increase in liking after the sudden detection of Gestalt), effects of expectation, or Berlyne’s idea that ‘disorientation’ with a ‘promise of success’ elicits interest. We conducted empirical studies on indeterminate artistic movies depicting the evolution and metamorphosis of Gestalt and investigated (i) the effects of sudden perceptual insights on liking; that is, “Aesthetic Aha”-effects, (ii) the dynamics of interest before moments of insight, and (iii) the dynamics of complexity before and after moments of insight. Via the so-called Continuous Evaluation Procedure (CEP) enabling analogous evaluation in a continuous way, participants assessed the material on two aesthetic dimensions blockwise either in a gallery or a laboratory. The material’s inherent dynamics were described via assessments of liking, interest, determinacy and surprise along with a computational analysis on the variable complexity. We identified moments of insight as peaks in determinacy and surprise. Statistically significant changes in liking and interest demonstrated that: (i) insights increase liking, (ii) interest already increases 1,500 ms before such moments of insight, supporting the idea that it is evoked by an expectation of understanding, and (iii) insights occur during increasing complexity. We propose a preliminary model of dynamics in liking and interest with regard to complexity and perceptual insight and discuss descriptions of participants’ experiences of insight. Our results point to the importance of systematic analyses of dynamics in art perception and appreciation.
We asked whether and how people appreciate ambiguous artworks and examined the possible mechanisms underlying the appeal of perceptual challenge in art. Although experimental research has shown people’s particular appreciation for highly familiar and prototypical objects that are fluently processed, there is increasing evidence that in the arts people often prefer ambiguous materials which are processed less fluently. Here, we empirically show that modern and contemporary ambiguous artworks evoking perceptual challenge are indeed appreciated. By applying a multilevel modeling approach together with multidimensional measurement of aesthetic appreciation, we revealed that the higher the subjectively perceived degree of ambiguity within an artwork, the more participants liked it and the more interesting and affecting it was for them. These dimensions of aesthetic appreciation were also positively related to the subjectively reported strength of insights during elaboration of the artworks. The estimated solvability of the experienced ambiguity, in contrast, was not relevant for liking and even negatively linked to interest and affect. Consequently, we propose a critical view of the frequently reported idea that processing (modern) art simply equals a kind of problem solving task. We suggest the dynamic gain of insights during the elaboration of an ambiguous artwork, rather than the state of having solved a problem, to be a mechanism possibly relevant to the appeal of challenge in the perception of ambiguous art.