Perception of emotion in abstract artworks: A multidisciplinary approach

David Melcher, Francesca Bacci

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


There is a long-standing and fundamental debate regarding how emotion can be expressed by fine art. Some artists and theorists have claimed that certain features of paintings, such as color, line, form, and composition, can consistently express an "objective" emotion, while others have argued that emotion perception is subjective and depends more on expertise of the observer. Here, we discuss two studies in which we have found evidence for consistency in observer ratings of emotion for abstract artworks. We have developed a stimulus set of abstract art images to test emotional priming, both between different painting images and between paintings and faces. The ratings were also used in a computational vision analysis of the visual features underlying emotion expression. Overall, these findings suggest that there is a strong bottom-up and objective aspect to perception of emotion in abstract artworks that may tap into basic visual mechanisms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationProgress in Brain Research
PublisherElsevier B.V.
Number of pages26
StatePublished - 2013

Publication series

NameProgress in Brain Research
ISSN (Print)0079-6123
ISSN (Electronic)1875-7855


  • Abstract art
  • Art and neuroscience
  • Computer vision
  • Emotion
  • Neuroaesthetics
  • Visual art
  • Visual perception

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience


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