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PSYC3065 Ten paintings: linking pictorial art works to perceptual and cognitive psychology

Module Overview

Each seminar takes a painting or set of paintings (e.g. Warhol’s Death and Disaster series, Monet’s Rouen Cathedral series) as a focus for discussion. The objective is to show how the form, structure and/or content of target painting(s) explores themes we also consider in perceptual and cognitive psychology (see, for example, Kass, Harland, & Donnelly, 2015). Kass, J., Harland, B., & Donnelly, N. (2015). Abstracting the Set: Monet's Cathedrals and Stable Mental Concepts from Serial Pictorial Artworks. Art & Perception, 3 (2), 139-150. doi:10.1163/22134913-00002030.

Aims and Objectives

Module Aims

The course explores the links between pictorial artworks and perceptual and cognitive psychology. The reciprocal aims being to show the relevance of a psychological understanding of perceptual and cognitive phenomena to pictorial artworks and reveal how artisits have explored issues of relevance to perceptual and cognitive psychology. Students will learn how to consider pictorial artworks within the frameworks offered by the perceptual and cognitive psychology.

Learning Outcomes

Learning Outcomes

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Demonstrate the utility of themes from visual cognition to an understanding of spectatorship in pictorial art
  • Demonstrate an understanding of the changing role of pictorial art in visual communication
  • Write clearly and concisely


Seminar 1, Linking Perceptual and Cognitive Psychology to the Visual Arts? Painting: Slave market with the disappearing bust of Voltaire (Dali, 1940) Reading: Oliva, A. (2013). The Art of Hybrid Images: Two for the View of One. Art and Perception, 1, 65-74. DOI:10.1163/ 22134913-00002004 Seminar 2, Are paintings like other visual scenes? Painting: The Toilet of Venus/The Rokeby Venus (Velázquez, 1651) Reading: Mammasian, P. (2008). Ambiguities and conventions in the perception of visual art. Vision Research, 48, 2143-2153. DOI: 10.1016/j.visres.2008.06.010 Seminar 3, Motifs, Icons and Relational knowledge Painting: Les Grandes Baigneuses (Cezanne, 1894-1905) Reading: Chun, M. M. and Jiang, Y. (1998). Contextual Cueing: Implicit learning and memory of visual context guides spatial attention. Cognitive Psychology, 36, 28-71. DOI: 10.1006/cogp.1998.0681 Seminar 4, Bottom up versus top-down perception. Painting: Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (Picasso, 1907) Reading : Cupchik, G. C., Vartanian, O., Crawley, A. and Mikulis, D. J. (2009). Viewing artworks : Contributions of cognitive control and perceptual facilitation to aesthetic experience. Brain and Cognition, 70, 84-91. DOI: 10.1016/j.bandc.2009.01.003 Seminar 5, Scene perception in paintings Painting : Landscape with a man killed by a snake (Poussin, 1648) Reading: Locher, P., Krupinksi, E. A., Mello-Thoms, C., and Nodine, C. F. (2006). Visual interest in pictorial art during an aesthetic experience. Spatial Vision, 21, 22-77. DOI: 10.1163/156856807782753868 Trip to national gallery Seminar 6, Colour and Motion: Artists as neuroscientists. Painting: Nude descending a staircase (Duchamp, 1912) Reading : Zihl, J., van Cramon, D. and Mai, N. (1983). Selective disturbance of movement vision after bilateral brain damage. Brain, 106, 313-340. Seminar 7 Instances and concepts. Painting : Rouen Cathedral Series (Monet, c.1894) Reading: Kass, J. M., Harland, B. and Donnelly, N. (2015). Abstracting the set: Monet’s cathedrals and stable mental concepts from serial pictorial artworks. Art and Perception, 3, 139-150. DOI:10.1163/22134913-00002030 Seminar 8, Social cognition and gaze Painting: A Bar at the Folies Bergère (Manet, 1882) Reading: Donnelly, N, Harland, B., Mestry, N., Thompson, N ., Trawinski, T., and Liversedge, S. P. (in press). The influence of pupil alignment on spectator address in Manet’s portraiture. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity and the Arts. Seminar 9: Processing fluency and affective processing Painting: Death and Disaster series (Warhol, c.1963) Reading: Kass, J. M., Harland, E. J. and Donnelly, N. (in press). Warholian repetition and the viewer’s affective response to artworks from his Death and Disaster series. Leonardo. Seminar 10: Conclusions Painting: Las Meninas (Velázquez, 1656) Reading: No reading will be set.

Special Features

The module will be rich in visual material coming from outside of Psychology. Student engagement will be improved by visiting galleries as and when appropriate

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

The module will be taught as a series of ten seminars. Seminars will generally take the form of an initial discussion of a specific painting (or set of paintings). Professor Donnelly will choose these paintings for a particular reason: their specific relation to a particular focal point of discussion. Linking in with a discussion of each painting will be some discussion of issues from perceptual and cognitive psychology that are pertinent to the target painting(s). The presumption is that seminars will be student-led and facilitated by Professor Donnelly, as appropriate for Year 3 undergraduate students. Assessment will be made via a 2 hour examination and a 1500 word essay. The essay questions will be set to test student understanding of issues in pictorial art and perceptual and cognitive psychology, and critically, to reflect on the integration of the two.

Independent Study128
Total study time150

Resources & Reading list

Mather, G. (2013). The Psychology of Visual Art: Eye, Brain and Art. 



MethodPercentage contribution
Essay 49%
Exam 50%
Research Participation 1%


MethodPercentage contribution
Exam 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

Linked modules

Pre-requisites: PSYC2018 AND PSYC2021


Costs associated with this module

Students are responsible for meeting the cost of essential textbooks, and of producing such essays, assignments, laboratory reports and dissertations as are required to fulfil the academic requirements for each programme of study.

In addition to this, students registered for this module typically also have to pay for:

Books and Stationery equipment

There are no necessary costs associated with the course other than from purchasing key texts. I would recommend visiting a few galleries, in particular the National Gallery, but this must be covered by the students themselves

Please also ensure you read the section on additional costs in the University’s Fees, Charges and Expenses Regulations in the University Calendar available at

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