DOI: 10.1098/rstb.2022.0417 ISSN: 0962-8436

A hole in a piece of cardboard and predictive brain: the incomprehension of modern art in the light of the predictive coding paradigm

Ladislav Kesner
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology

Incomprehension of and resistance to contemporaneous art have been constant features in the development of modern art. The predictive coding framework can be used to analyse this response by outlining the difference between the misunderstanding of (i) contemporary conceptual/minimalist art and (ii) early modern avant-garde art and by elucidating their underlying cognitive mechanisms. In both of these cases, incomprehension and its behavioural consequences are tied to the failure of the optimal prediction error (PE) minimization that is involved in the perception of such art works. In the case of contemporary conceptual/minimalist art the failure stems from the fact that the encounter results in non-salient visual sensations and generates no PE. In early modern avant-garde art, the occasional inability of viewers to recognize pictorial content using new pictorial conventions reflected the absence of suitable priors to explain away ambiguous sensory data. The capacity to recognize pictorial content in modernist painting, as a prerequisite for a satisfying encounter with such works and ultimately a wider acceptance of new artistic styles, required an updating of a number of expectations in order to optimize the fit between priors and sensations, from low-level perceptual priors to the development of higher-level, culturally determined expectations.

This article is part of the theme issue ‘Art, aesthetics and predictive processing: theoretical and empirical perspectives’.

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