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AVE (i.e. Visual Art and Emotion) is a three-year (2010-2014)  interdisciplinary project funded by the ANR (Agence Nationale de la Recherche). The aim of the project is to enable scientists to understand the emotional qualities of brushstrokes in calligraphy and Chinese painting. The goal of AVE is then (a) to conduct neuroscientific experiments to test the hypothesis that brushstrokes in pictorial art are a vehicle for emotions, and (b) to assess how the emotional dynamic triggered by brushstrokes is linked to the recognition of the action performed by the artist. The results are expected to offer philosophical insights into the nature of the experience of pictorial creations.

Pictorial art is a source of very different experiences, which are so rich as to engage much of our mental life, from perception to cognition, from creation to reception. The emotional side of our engagement with works of pictorial art is probably the most misunderstood and problematic mental phenomenon. In Western culture, since the late 18th century and during the 19th century, the expressive theory of art maintains that an artefact expresses emotions. This theory, relatively consensual among philosophers and artists, needs to be conceptually clarified and empirically supported. By focusing on pictorial art, AVE aims at filling this gap. AVE also assumes that the expressive theory of art would greatly benefit from a dialogue with the secular tradition of calligraphy and Chinese painting, according to which artists within this tradition have acquired an ability to create pictorially, in minimal visual forms, feelings and emotions. If the claim that brushstrokes in pictorial art are vehicles of emotions is widely theorized in Chinese philosophy, it has never been shown by neuroscience experiments.

Following this practical and theoretical tradition, AVE will develop experimental protocols in empirical psychology and affective neuroscience in order to understand causal processes underlying emotional expressiveness in pictorial art. The AVE project brings together experts within the social sciences and cognitive scientists around a common goal: the neuroscientific research of invariants in brushstrokes, which would be a component of the emotional expression in calligraphy and Chinese painting, as well Western painting. AVE has a multidisciplinary scope and an object of study with a universal resonance. These neuroscientific experiences will help to understand brain mechanisms involved in perception of aesthetic and expressive properties of pictorial artefacts.