Why do some people like negative, or even disgusting and provocative artworks? Art expertise, believed to influence the interplay among cognitive and emotional processing underlying aesthetic experience, could be the answer. We studied how art expertise modulates the effect of positive-and negative-valenced artworks on aesthetic and emotional responses, measured with self-reports and facial electromyography (EMG). Unsurprisingly, emotionally-valenced art evoked coherent valence as well as corrugator supercilii and zygamoticus major activations. However, compared to non-experts, experts showed attenuated reactions, with less extreme valence ratings and corrugator supercilii activations and they liked negative art more. This pattern was also observed for a control set of International Affective Picture System (IAPS) pictures suggesting that art experts show general processing differences for visual stimuli. Thus, much in line with the Kantian notion that an aesthetic stance is emotionally distanced, art experts exhibited a distinct pattern of attenuated emotional responses.
Keywords: Aesthetic evaluation; Art; Emotion; Expertise; Facial EMG; IAPS.