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Title: Ambiguous artefacts : towards a cognitive anthropology of art
Author: Jucker, Jean-Luc
ISNI:       0000 0004 2726 820X
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2012
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This thesis proposes elements for a cognitive anthropology of visual art. Most works of art are human-made objects that cannot be approached in purely functional terms, and as such they frustrate important cognitive expectations that people have about artefacts. For this reason, it is hypothesised that art triggers speculation about the artist’s intention, and that it is intuitively approached as a form of communication. By application of Bloom’s (1996) theory of artefact categorisation, and Sperber and Wilson’s (1986/1995) relevance theory of communication, a series of predictions are generated for art categorisation (or definition), art appreciation, and art cultural distribution. Two empirical studies involving more than 1,000 participants tested the most important of these predictions. In study 1, a relationship was found between how much a series of works of art were liked and how easy they were to understand. Study 2 comprised four experiments. In experiment 1, a series of hyperrealistic paintings were preferred when they were labelled as paintings than when they were labelled as photographs. In experiments 2a and 2b, a series of paintings were considered easier to understand and, under some conditions, were preferred, when they were accompanied by titles that made it easier to understand the artist’s intention. In experiment 3, a series of artefacts were more likely to be considered “art” when they were thought to have been created intentionally than when they were thought to have been created accidentally. The results of studies 1 and 2 confirmed the predictions tested, and are interpreted in the framework of relevance theory. The art experience involves speculation about the artist’s intention, and it is partly assessed as a form of communication that is constrained by relevance dynamics. Implications for anthropology of art, psychology of art, and the art world are discussed.
Supervisor: Barrett, Justin L. ; Whitehouse, Harvey Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Art ; Visual art and representation ; History of art and visual culture ; Cognition ; Experimental psychology ; Perception ; Anthropology ; Cognitive anthropology ; Social anthropology ; Visual anthropology ; Sociology ; Statistics (social sciences) ; Specific philosophical schools ; aesthetics ; affordances ; anthropology of art ; art ; artefact ; cognitive anthropology ; communication ; culture and cognition ; function ; hyperrealism ; intention ; relevance theory ; Tate Gallery ; title