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Aesthetic Experience. An empirical investigation in phenomenological psychology.

Semper Ardens: Accelerate


In this project, we will show how imagination gives rise to, and is included in, aesthetic experiences with visual art that deeply shape the viewer. The role(s) of imagination, however, can only play out when specific atmospheres open up for intense aesthetic experiences that exist within a social field of “horizons of expectations.” These aspects will be investigated through empirical methods in phenomenological psychology. Together, investigations into the nature of expectations and atmospheres that facilitate for aesthetic experience will provide a foundation for understanding how imagination becomes a crucial part of it. We will thereby explain both how imagination works in aesthetic experiences and what it takes for it to do so.


Through descriptions of experience obtained via qualitative interviews and theoretical analyses, we will formulate a theory about the complex combinations of imagination, atmospheres and expectations as components of aesthetic experience. I have been working for several years on bodily and other affective aspects of aesthetic experience. But theorizing bodily and affective aspects of experience are not sufficient for a comprehensive understanding of subjectivity. Through the inclusion of imagination and its constituents we will, for the first time, explain the psychological importance of art and, thereby, provide a new paradigm for understanding art and its significance.


The empirical studies are based on an updated and refined version of phenomenological psychological methodology as well as the works of Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Edmund Husserl, among others. A principal assumption within phenomenological psychology is that experience itself reveals underlying mental structures and dynamics. Through the use of interviews and observations, we can arrive at rich descriptions of such experiential features. We will conduct about 30 in-depth, semi-structured interviews and the participants will be asked to give as nuanced descriptions of their experiences as possible, detailing those experiences with art which had been the most important or meaningful for them. These descriptions will be discussed in conjuncture with relevant theory.


In a time of decreased funding for the arts, it is the aim of this project to show how art is important. We will show how aesthetic experiences can occur and how they can influence the human psyche. Since we will discuss psychological consequences of art and how it is that art works when it works most intensely, our results should have direct relevance for how art is taught in schools, for instance, with focus on how facilitating for aesthetic experiences in the classroom activates imagination and other emotional processes. It will also have consequences for museum strategies, placing increased focus on personal engagement with the work of art as well as increased awareness of the arts in general.