Scientists Have Cracked the Code for Getting People to Like Computer-Made Art

artnet News | Rachel Corbett

“Empathy is the new black,” someone said to me recently, referring to the trend in recent years to blame many of humanity’s most pressing problems on the depletion of empathy in today’s tech-mediated culture. The phenomenon has reached the art world, too, perhaps most notably in the Minneapolis Institute of Art’s decision to open the world’s first Center for Empathy and the Visual Arts with a $750,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. It makes sense given that empathy is an idea that first got its start in the study of art. Nineteenth-century theorists described empathy as the way our body mirrors movements in the external world. When the aesthetic philosopher Theodor Lipps watched a dance performance, he said he felt his body “striving and performing” with the dancers. Even with static works of art, observers “move in and with the forms” in such a way that triggers “muscular empathy,” wrote the German philosopher Robert Vischer.

More recent studies have shown that works of art with implied gestures, such as Lucio Fontana‘s slashed canvases, increased activity in viewers’ motor and premotor cortices. “This ability to have the movements and experiences of the artists projected into our minds and bodies triggers an empathic response in the observer,” write the co-authors of a new paper in the journal Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, which looks at how our empathic responses to art are evolving in the age of artificial intelligence…read more

Image: Stills from Patrick Tresset’s 5 Robots Named Paul (2014). Courtesy of the artist.