Art/Design, Lifestyle

Abstract art doesn’t elicit universal emotional responses, and that’s okay

We’re all different.

words by: Sahar Khraibani
Aug 23, 2020

Were you also under the impression that abstract art is supposed to elicit a certain universal emotional response in you? Well now you can rest assured, and go back to purely admiring the aesthetics behind an artwork. Apparently, according to experts, abstract art does not elicit a universal response in the human brain. 


Though I have personally experienced overwhelming emotions in front of Mark Rothko’s No.3/No.13 which sits in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, according to the study by PLOS ONE journal released earlier in the year, not everyone experiences the same emotions when viewing works of abstractions. In fact, some people are even completely unphased by them. 


The study pooled participants and asked them to observe reproductions of three abstract artworks: Wassily Kandinsky’s Untitled (1916), Joan Miró’s Untitled (1961), and Fritz Winter’s Siebdruck 6 (1950). After conducting this experiment, researchers found little evidence of any significant shared emotional responses to the famous paintings. In fact, the responses were really varied, proving, perhaps once and for all, that art is subjective and uniquely experienced.


The researchers concluded: “There was no consistent pattern in which terms people agreed on. This rebuttal of universality challenges a fundamental assumption on which both historical and contemporary discourses on art are based.” This debunks major theories about how one is “supposed” to feel in front of works of art, concluding once and for all that aesthetic effects are not universally shared but are rather unique and subjective to the viewer and the viewer only.


Photo via Wassily Kandinsky