Some Ecological Thoughts About Artworks and Perception

  • William P. SeeleyEmail author
Part of the The Frontiers Collection book series (FRONTCOLL)


Artworks are attentional engines. They are artifacts intentionally designed to direct attention to what we might call their artistically salient features. The artistically salient features of a work are those aspects of their formal-compositional structure that carry information about what they express, their point, purpose, or meaning. These aspects of a work reflect the range of compositional strategies and choices an artist has employed to produce their work. Critically, artists deploy exogenous and endogenous perceptual strategies tailored to direct attention and reveal what they mean to express with their artworks. Painters, for instance, manipulate the perceptual salience of different areas of the canvas to directly engage perceptual systems, e.g. manipulating contrasts in the tonal properties, hue value, or scale of spatial frequency information. However, shared art critical knowledge can also be exploited to indirectly engage endogenous attentional processes, shape perception, and guide a consumer’s understanding of what is expressed in a work. The range of exogenous and endogenous perceptual strategies an artist employs shape what an artifact affords a consumer as an artwork. Access to these affordances depends upon the structure of the works, the structure of perceptual systems, and an understanding of the broad range of art critical and cultural practices that define the artworld for a community at a time. In this chapter I will employ a diagnostic recognition framework and a biased competition theory of selective attention to develop a model for understanding the way artists exploit exogenous and endogenous perceptual strategies in their works and map the complex environment of an artwork.


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Boston CollegeUniversity of New HampshireManchesterUK

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