Aesthetics and action: situations, emotional perception and the Kuleshov effect

Synthese 198 (Suppl 9):2345-2363 (2019)
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This article focuses on situations and emotional perception. To this end, I start with the Kuleshov effect wherein identical shots of performers manifest different expressions when cut to different contexts. However, I conducted experiments with a twist, using Darth Vader and non-primates, and even here expressions varied with contexts. Building on historically and conceptually linked Gibsonian, Gestalt, phenomenological and pragmatic schools, along with consonant experimental work, I extrapolate these results to defend three interconnected points. First, I argue that while perceiving expression is sometimes about reading minds, it is more squarely about perceiving solicitations or closures for action. Second, I frame expressions as a subcategory of Gibson’s affordances. This includes those showing up through context, in turn suggesting Kuleshov-like scenarios are not mere perceptual tricks. Third, I maintain that situations—with or without other human beings—have action-motivating expressive qualities or what Gestalt theorists called physiognomic characters, following Werner. These likewise emerge through ecological relations, and are very much like affordances and in the world as much as them. With resemblance theories, my account agrees that we perceive expression in the world. However, it indicates a broad range of cases in which expression shows up as consequences of overall situations that solicit or close actions, as opposed to mere resemblance between entities and human expressions.

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Matthew Crippen
Grand Valley State University


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