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Cognitive Semiotics

Editor-in-Chief: Bundgaard, Peer F.

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Aesthetic perception, attention, and non-genericity: How artists exploit the automatisms of perception to construct meaning in vision

Peer F. Bundgaard / Jacob Heath / Svend Østergaard
Published Online: 2017-11-04 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/cogsem-2017-0011


The present work is an attempt to bring meaning to the fore of not only empirical aesthetics but also experimental aesthetics. We have addressed meaning in terms of attention-grabbing perceptual structure, doing so in the strong sense of structure; i.e., structure understood as a pure spatial relation between shapes, independently of what objects these shapes represent. The structures we investigate are the so-called non-generic configurations that obtain between objects seen from a unique vantage point. In the paper, we first introduce the notion of non-genericity, in general, and its use in visual art in particular, where it is claimed to affect the visual brain as an attention grabber. We then present an experiment we have designed to test the effect of such a relation on the visual brain, and we give evidence to the effect that non-generic configurations in pictures do attract attention significantly more than their generic counterparts. Non-genericity can therefore be considered as one among other pictorial techniques artists dispose of to construct perceptual meaning in vision.

Keywords: non-genericity; attention; perceptual structure; meaning; visual art


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About the article

Peer F. Bundgaard

Peer F. Bundgaard is an associate professor at the Center for Semiotics, Aarhus University. His research interests are cognitive linguistics and phenomenology as well as the cognitive semiotics of art and aesthetic experience. He has published articles in Synthese, Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences, and Semiotica. His most recent publication is Investigations into the Phenomenology and the Ontology of the Work of Art (Springer, open access, edited with Frederik Stjernfelt).

Jacob Heath

Jacob Heath has an MA in Cognitive Semiotics from Aarhus Univeristy, now working there as a scientific assistant.

Svend Østergaard

The late Svend Østergård was an associate professor at the Center for Semiotics, Aarhus University. His research interests focused on dynamic models of social interaction and especially how language structure emerges as a result of interaction. He published a number of articles on dynamic semiotics as well as the books Mathematics of Meaning (1997), about the use of catastrophe theory and mathematics in the study of semantics, and Kognition og katastrofer (1998), about cognitive linguistics and its relation to the theory of dynamic models.

Published Online: 2017-11-04

Published in Print: 2017-11-27

Citation Information: Cognitive Semiotics, Volume 10, Issue 2, Pages 91–120, ISSN (Online) 2235-2066, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/cogsem-2017-0011.

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