29. October 2019

Empirical Aesthetics in Leuven

Empirical aesthetics in Leuven

Edward Vessel (2. v.l.), Ilkay Isik (3. v.l.) und Dominik Welke (1. v.r.)

Leuven, a lovely student city in Belgium, hosted two conferences in August 2019: The Visual Science of Art Conference 2019 (VSAC; August, 21–24) and the European Conference on Visual Perception (ECVP; August, 25–29). The Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics was there.


First stop for Edward Vessel, Dominik Welke, and Ilkay Isik from the VisNA Lab* of the Department of Neuroscience and Julia Christensen from the Department of Language and Literature was VSAC. The conference brings together scientists and artists interested in the psychology and neuroscience of visual aesthetics and art. It is a meeting point for people working in the areas related to visual perception and the arts empirically, philosophically, or computationally. Dominik Welke and Ilkay Isik presented their research projects in lectures, Edward Vessel and Julia Christensen presented their research projects at poster sessions. 

In addition to the scientific program, an artistic program was offered, which gave participants the opportunity to visit various exhibitions in the city to interact with artists.


Julia Christensen was not only participating VSAC as a regular attendee but also helping to collect footage for an art science documentary film that she is curating with Iranian film makers Fahima Farahi and Sina HN Yazdi. In this project, supported by the British Academy and the MPIEA, they aim to communicate scientific events with the general public through film making. The video with the input from VSAC will be available in the project’s YouTube channel soon.


Immediately after VSAC, the researchers of the MPIEA stayed in Leuven for the European Conference on Visual Perception. ECVP is an annual meeting devoted to the scientific study of human visual perception. At this year’s ECVP, the topic of visual aesthetics was represented very well. Dominik Welke’s poster which explained his research on designing EEG paradigms for naturalistic engagement with aesthetic stimuli attracted many visitors. Then, there was a talk session on visual aesthetics where Ilkay Isik presented her research about behavioral and neural correlates of aesthetic experiences with landscape and dance videos. On the second day of the conference, Ed Vessel gave a talk as part of a special symposium entitled “Why Do We Like what We See?” His talk “From ‘Being Moved’ to Moving Images” was an overview of his recent research. He elaborated on the possible role of the default-mode network in aesthetically “moving” experiences and how the VisNa Lab is using dynamic stimuli and dynamic measurements to understand the temporal nature of aesthetic experience.


If you are interested in other talks from the session, there is a twitter thread with short summaries of the talks.


*The VisNA (Visual Neuroaesthetcis) Lab is part of the Department of Neuroscience and focuses on the study the psychological and neural basis of aesthetic experiences, such as when a person is aesthetically “moved” by visual art, poetry, architecture, music, or natural landscapes. Much of the research relies on brain imaging (fMRI, EEG) and behavioral techniques. The lab also frequently uses computational tools (e.g., machine learning), measurements of physiology, and eye-tracking.