The Artful Brain Conference: Art and Perceptual Play - Mohan Matthen (Toronto)
Art is universally characterized by certain primary attractors (such as pattern, melody, and emotional appeal) which contribute to beauty, as well as by certain secondary attractors, which include form, style, and fine execution, which are supererogatory with respect to beauty. To explain how art emerged, we have to explain both. My explanation here is in terms of value—what of value do we humans get from the attractors? I argue, first, that the primary attractors cannot be explained by appealing to the value of an art object taken in itself. What has to be explained is the value of perceptually contemplating this object (or intellectually contemplating it, but here I confine myself to the perceptual component of art). The framework I use to explain the attractors is that of play and practice in the development of perceptual skill. "Perceptual play" is a way of developing certain perceptual skills; the primary attractors and beauty are connected with the pleasure we get from perceptual play. Art is the production of artefacts that can be used for perceptual play.I argue, second, that explaining the primary attractors is not enough. One has also to explain what value there is in constraining these by form and by high standards of execution. In my view, the secondary attractors are connected with features on which we can practice to attain ever-higher levels of perceptual discrimination.