A Quick Horror Flick Viewing Makes Abstract Art Way More Awesome, Says Science

Illustration for article titled A Quick Horror Flick Viewing Makes Abstract Art Way More Awesome, Says Science

The inquisitive minds of the scientific community who most appreciated the dimmed lights and hushed lecture rooms of their early morning undergrad art history lectures might have figured out what makes people get into abstract art — pure, unadulterated terror.


Scientific American's Christie Nicholson reported on a study that sought to figure out what sort of stimuli elicit the strongest responses in art-viewers by having a group of 85 participants experience one of five different things before gazing abstract paintings by Russian artist El Lissitzky. One group watched a brief scary movie (the scariness of which is itself subjective, but whatever — we're deep in now), another group watched a brief happy movie, two more groups did some unpleasant calisthenics and the control group did nothing because they're all boring anyway.

The group that watched the scary movie before taking in the intricacies of Lissitzky's black and red geometric shapes was more likely to rate Lissitzky's art as more "sublime or positive" than any of the other groups, probably because they were experiencing some residual fear that researchers would think them to be unsophisticated troglodytes. The other groups didn't demonstrate any significant variety in the way they gaped at Lisstizky's work while thinking the whole time, "How long do I stare at this before everyone thinks I like it? Better tilt my head thoughtfully..."

Researchers supposed that the titillating, unnerving feelings instilled in viewers by scary movies might help cultivate "goose bumps, and inspire awe" when viewing art, which raw emotional response enhances a particular artwork's immediate appeal. All you need, then, to really get into Barnett Newman's color rectangles is a quick Hellraiser viewing, preferably when the Cenobites first show up because that shit is scaaaaary.

Fear Makes Art More Engaging [Scientific American]


My guess is that those kinds of movies tend to insure some innate fight or flight instincts which makes people more attuned to things around them. I'd say it's not that dissimilar to how people, when frightened, get jumpy about every little sound they hear. So put them in front of an abstract painting and they're more likely to absorb the finer details.

It could also be feelings of relief being responsible for this. I'd be curious to know what kind of people they selected to watch those movies, do they watch horror movies frequently or not? That might elicit different responses to the art.

My point being, I don't think awe was part of it. But it's unfortunate the article is light on details.