Processing Fluency, Aesthetic Pleasure, and Culturally Shared Taste
This chapter reviews the processing fluency theory of aesthetic pleasure and introduces a new account of socially shared tastes based on this theory. Processing fluency – or simply fluency – is defined as the ease with which information flows through the cognitive system. This ease of processing is affectively positive: People prefer things they can perceive or apprehend easily. This finding spurred the development of a processing fluency theory of aesthetic pleasure, a theory that helps explain why people find an artwork beautiful. Although beauty is not the only aesthetic quality, it was a prominent one in the history of aesthetics, and it remains an important notion in what laypeople think about art. The first part reviews the fluency theory of aesthetic pleasure, and evidence in its favor. The second part discusses challenges to the fluency theory: Some findings apparently contradict the fluency theory, and some theories put forward mechanisms that could be alternatives to fluency. Another central challenge for every theory of empirical aesthetics is the question: What does it tell us about art? The answer lies in the fact that artists can use disfluency strategically to express negative meaning, such as disorder, struggle, or meaninglessness. The final part combines the fluency theory of aesthetic pleasure with the sociology of taste by Pierre Bourdieu and presents a new account of culturally shared taste that explains how individuals within a culture or social class develop similar tastes and feel pleasure towards the same artistic objects.
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