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The University of Southampton
International Summer School

Art, Mind, Cognition - Psychology of Aesthetics Course Information

The National Gallery
The National Gallery

Welcome to the University of Southampton's International Summer School Art, Mind, Cognition - Psychology of Aesthetics course!

During these three workshops, students will have opportunities to explore an important foundation for Western Culture: Art. The course consists of three workshops exploring face and portraiture, dreams and madness, and beauty and art in a psychological context. Sessions will be based on interaction between participants, activities and mini-lectures. The course will also include a day trip to London to visit The National Gallery with some of the most important collections in the world.

Course Overview

To explore how psychology can aid the understanding of paintings. The course will be assessed by a multiple-choice test.

Session 1: Faces

Aim: To show and explain why faces in paintings have a special status for spectators

With reference to portraits and other paintings, especially those of Pablo Picasso and David Hockney, students will learn how the psychological mechanisms that support face perception are used when looking at paintings. In particular, the way that faces are perceived as ‘wholes’ and attract attention to themselves and guide attention elsewhere will be explored. In addition, students will be given the opportunity to create their own artwork in the style of David Hockney’s photo collage work.

Session 2: Imagination

Aim: To show and explain the relationship between artists’ creativity and different states of mind

The connection between aims of surrealism and psychological interpretation of dream will be explored. Students will learn how distinguish the phase of dreaming from different stages of brain activity based on EEG signals. Also, we wish to explore painters’ biographies (e.g. Francisco Goya, Vincent van Gogh) to show how different states of mind can influence the creativity process (Burch, Pavelis, Hemsley, & Corr, 2006). In addition, we are going to increase awareness about how easy it is to make a judgement about mental conditions different people, base on their atypical behaviour or artefacts (as paintings).

Session 3: Beauty

Aim: To show and explain features which influence the perception of beauty in paintings.

Renaissance paintings will be used to explore composition and symmetry to beauty perception. Students will learn how golden ration and deviation from that influence on the perception of paintings. Also, students will explore how ambiguity of paintings can influence the spectator, and the reasons for this. We will focus on Leonardo da Vinci: Mona Lisa painting and her smile, which sometimes appears as a grimace. This class includes practical implication of law of aesthetic base on computers’ exercise. Students will be asked to change the size and composition of some pictures to create the most beautiful paintings. The works of students will be discussed and refer to principles of aesthetic.


National Gallery in London: Art and Illusion

Aim: To apply knowledge from classes to interpreting paintings in vivo.

During the visit to The National Gallery in London, students will be given the opportunity to see the most influential paintings in history. We are going to explore these artworks based on psychological principles and art historical context. We will try to engage our students in using knowledge, which were delivered during classes, to interpreting exhibited paintings.

Meet your tutors:

The sessions will be taught by Professor Nick Donnelly (Professor of Cognitive Psychology) and Tobiasz Trawinski (PhD researcher in Psychology).

For further information on the postgraduate tutors please visit the Meet the tutors pages.

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