The next time you plan a trip to the museum or art gallery to soak in some abstract art, consider enjoying a scary movie first. A recent study suggests that fear can enhance your experience, making art seem more sublime.
Researchers Kendall Eskine, Natalie Kacinik, and Jesse Prinz set out to see what kind of emotions or arousal would affect people’s experiences of abstract art. BPS Research Digest explains the study:
Eighty-five participants were allocated to one of five conditions prior to looking at the art work. Some of them watched a 14-second scary video clip; others watched a 14-second happy video clip; some did 30 jumping jack exercises (designed to induce high physiological arousal); some did 15 jumping jacks (low arousal); whilst the remainder acted as controls and simply looked at the art without any preceding activity or intervention. The participants were questioned later and the different conditions had the desired effect – for example, the scary film left the participants in that condition feeling scared, and the happy film left others feeling equally happy.
The participants were then shown four paintings by Russian abstract artist El Lissitsky, like the “Proun” geometric paintings above. Then they rated their experience of the art according to how it made them react:
These factors were intended to tap into Edmund Burke’s conception of the sublime: “that state of the soul in which all its motions are suspended … so entirely filled with its object.”
Those who watched the scary clip rated it as more sublime than the other groups, while the other participants didn’t differ in their ratings from each other.
Perhaps scary movies or feeling afraid can help enhance our appreciation of art because they move us out of our common, usual grind, the researchers suggest. Art also has the power to surprise and elicit goose bumps in us. What do you think? Up for popcorn and a horror flick then the art gallery?
Why you should watch a horror film before going to the art gallery [BPS Research Digest]