Collective aesthetics and the Mere Exposure Effect

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Gertrude Stein’s seminal essay “Composition as Explanation” analyzes the temporal and social factors contributing to the perception of beauty in a work of art. Readers processing Stein’s text, composed of many repetitions of highly convoluted grammatical structures, find that they acquire the ability to comprehend the text through the very process of reading it. Thus, Stein’s writing is closely linked to the Mere Exposure Effect (MEE), a psychological phenomenon related to implicit learning and conditioning. These two artistic and empirical bodies of knowledge constitute an interdisciplinary perspective from which we may challenge both the assumptions of the cognitive sciences concerning the “non-aesthetic­” dimensions of experimental stimuli, and the premise that aesthetic value may be dissociated from the contingencies of production and distribution.


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