TOK - Theory of Knowledge presentation script (To what extent does sense perception play a part in our emotional response to abstract expressionist paintings?)
TOK – Presentation (script)
Done by: Sarah Lee Shan Yun and Lionel Liew, 6TOK
Slide 2 – Real life situation
• First, let us start by introducing our real life situation.
• An experiment conducted by the University of Oregon, published in 2011,
showed that people responded in different ways, physically, to the same visual
of Pollock’s paintings, in terms of eye movements, heart rate and skin
conductivity. Some patients were tested to becoming more relaxed, having a
lower heart rate, blood pressure and blood cortisol levels (a stress hormone)
after viewing Jackson Pollock’s work for a short period of time. This
investigation could be useful in the incorporation of art into hospitals or
psychiatric wards to aid in relieving patients of stress.
Slide 3 – Elements and principles
• As an art student, I understand the importance of the elements and principles
of art in conveying emotions. Elements include line, color, value, shape, space
and texture, while principles include balance, contrast, rhythm, unity and
variety. Abstract expressionism may contain any of these elements and
principles, but depending on the painting, some may show through more than
Slide 4 – Questions to be asked
• The questions of investigation here would thus be: can abstract expressionism
really be considered art? Which elements and principles of Pollock’s paintings
evoked which kinds of emotions in the viewer and why? Other than sense
perception, do other ways of knowing or areas of knowledge affect our
emotions when we see abstract expressionist art?
Slide 5 – Knowledge issue
• We then brought about the knowledge issue: To what extent does sense
perception play a part in our emotional response to abstract expressionist
Slide 6 – What is art?
• It is hard to define art because there are many medias, genres, forms, periods
and eras of art.
According to the dictionary, art is the expression or application of human
creative skill and imagination, producing works to be appreciated primarily for
their beauty or emotional power
• Art can take many forms and is definitely not only bound to strict genres of
painting, or even to visual forms of art. Paintings, installations, photography,
sculpture, music, theatre, dance, literature and film, amongst many others, are
all forms of art. These may be visual, sound, performance, written, etc., any of
which requires some form of expression or creative input or skill.
Slide 7 – What is art? (Continued)
• Art, itself, is an entire area of knowledge in TOK, and is a broad area of study.
The ways of knowing normally associated with art include emotion, sense
perception, seeing as how art is an expression of ones emotions and are
viewed, heard or experienced by the audience through the use of the senses
(seeing, hearing, feeling, etc.)
Slide 8 – What is art? (Continued)
• Art cannot be defined to one particular purpose.
• An artist can have many different motives, whether to project a certain
expression, emotion and idea, or to send out a cultural, social or political
message. However, in this presentation, we will be focusing specifically on art
with the purpose of the expression of emotions because of its strong links with
our knowledge issue.
• As illustrated by the quote by Raul D. Arellano, “As an artist my mission in
relation to the universe is to realize and actualize the mirror of the human
• Aristotle also noted that “the aim of art is to represent not the outward
appearance of things, but their inward significance”
Slide 9 – Abstract expressionism
• Abstract expressionism is an artistic movement comprising diverse styles and
techniques, emphasizing an artist's liberty to convey attitudes and emotions
through nontraditional and usually nonrepresentational means
• The movement occurred after World War II in 1946
• Why abstract expressionism? Many people believe that abstract expressionist
artists lack technical skill in comparison with other artists (such as renaissance
painters). However, the theory that ‘art must be is intentional’ is still,
nonetheless, present, because artists like Jackson Pollock create this type of art
for a specific purpose. The purpose of abstract expressionism is NOT to
portray works with high technical brilliance, but rather as a way to decrease
the distance between high art and low art. Works were often described as
spontaneous, improvised, impulsive and unplanned. Artists created paintings
out of spur-of-the-moment emotions, though still with consideration of how
they could reflect those emotions, therefore yes, abstract expressionism is an
An abstract expressionist allows his audience to have their own individual and
personal response towards a painting, leading to differing experiences,
reactions and feedback. Abstract expressionism moves away from correlations
with political, social and cultural meaning and there is no specific subject
matter, thus it is described to be “nonrepresentational”. In a way, abstract
expressionism can be regarded to be closer to the theory of “universal art” as
opposed to “cultural art”. Because of this, abstract expressionist art allows for
more ambiguity in emotional response compared to most of the other art forms
and genres, thus creating a curiosity into the role in which emotion and sense
perception play in the way we respond to art.
Slide 10 – Jackson Pollock
• Jackson Pollock, one of the most well known artist, let alone abstract
expressionists, of all time invented his famous ‘drip’ technique in 1947.
• His works grew greatly in popularity in the 1950s and has stirred an enormous
amount of controversy in the art world up to present day.
• Jackson Pollock once said, “Today painters do not have to go to a subject
matter outside of themselves. Most modern painters work from a different
source. They work from within. The modern artist is working with space and
time, and expressing his feelings rather than illustrating.”
• Jackson Pollock understood the role of emotion in art. He reduced his work
down to the fundamental individual psyche. How can you project what you are
feeling at a particular moment in time without the use of a specific subject or
any visual representation that is instantly recognizable?
Slide 11 – Survey conducted (continued)
• In attempt to better understand the connections between the elements and
principles of art and emotion, as well as to comprehend how opinions differ
through different perspectives, we conducted a survey amongst 40 people in
different age groups, genders, races, nationalities and occupational
backgrounds. We showed them 2 different action paintings done by Jackson
Pollock and asked them to comment on them.
We showed them this painting entitled ‘number 1’ by Pollock.
We asked our candidates to choose which element or principle they first
noticed in the painting, then, which other parts of the painting they felt were
Following that, we asked them to describe their emotional reaction to the
painting with one or two words.
Also, we asked them to include any other comments which they felt should be
shared (e.g., what it reminded them of, or what they thought of the painting as
being called ‘art’)
Slide 12 – Survey results ‘Number 1’
• Firstly, we found that the first thing people noticed in Pollock’s ‘number 1’
Slide 13 – Survey results ‘Number 1’ (continued)
• We also found that people found its visual texture to be more significant than
the other elements and principles of art.
Slide 14 – Survey results ‘Number 1’ (continued)
• When asked how they responded to the painting emotionally, the same words
such as violence, chaos, confusion, messiness and sadness were recurrently
used. All of which were very negative and opposing in nature.
There were, however, some anomalies, with people responding with no
emotions, calling it happy and peaceful as well as calm.
Slide 15 – Survey results ‘Number 1’ (continued)
• We also found that people normally associated the painting to look like trees
or a forest, often comparing it to vegetation. Some even believed it to appear
like fabric. Other responses like ‘ship masts’ and ‘concentration camps’ were
Slide 16 – Survey conducted ‘Number 11’ (continued)
• Likewise, the same questions were asked in response to another one of
Pollock’s paintings entitled, “Blue Poles: Number11”.
Slide 17 – Survey results ‘Number 11’
• Immediately, we noticed that people responded very differently to a different
painting with different characteristics.
Most noticed the color first, followed by line and pattern.
This is substantially different from the results from the first survey because
instead of the results concentrating on a particular element or principle such as
‘line’, they are spread out amongst a few.
Slide 18 – Survey results ‘Number 11’ (continued)
• Surprisingly, the same result was noticed for the second question, where
responses were spread out amongst different elements and principles such as
color, contrast, line, texture, rhythm and movement, pattern and balance.
Slide 19 – Survey results ‘Number 11’ (continued)
• When asked how they responded to the painting emotionally, responses were,
again, mixed, ranging from negative answers like ‘anguish’, ‘anger’,
‘confused’, ‘disgusted’, ‘disorganized’
• To positive answers like ‘brightness’, ‘jovial’, ‘adventurous, ‘happy’,
‘beauty’, ‘curious’ and ‘amazing’.
We also noticed that there was a trend, that when people noticed ‘color’ and
‘rhythm and movement’ first, they perceived the painting in a more positive
light. When people noticed ‘line’, ‘texture’ and ‘contrast’ first, however, they
Slide 20 – Survey results ‘Number 11’ (continued)
• When asked what it reminded them of, responses were again, mixed. Some
thought they looked like bamboo trees, the forest, nature and the seasons.
Others felt it looked like fabric, wallpaper, batik and tablecloth. Some
interesting opinions aroused such as “the integration of different cultures” and
We also correlated the fact that more Caucasians usually associated the
painting to look like fabric and wallpaper, while more Asians usually
associated the painting to look like vegetation and trees, thought this is not
100% true in some cases. This shows that the cultural backgrounds of
individuals could sometimes affect how they responded to the art piece.
Slide 21 – Conclusion (continued)
• We can see that there are strong links between certain elements and principles
and the emotions they are associated with. When people noticed ‘color’,
‘rhythm’ and ‘movement’ first, they were more likely to respond positively,
identifying the painting with the emotions of happiness and joviality and
aggressive lines with the emotions of anger and disorientation.
• When people noticed ‘line’ and ‘texture’, they were more likely to respond
negatively, making the painting disorientating, confusing and disorganized.
This is regardless of their individual characteristics such as age, cultural
background, education level or gender, and was found to be a universal
response, though this was not 100% consistent throughout our survey results.
This proves that yes, sense perception greatly affects our emotional response
towards abstract art, yet why was this not the case for every single candidate?
Slide 22 – Conclusion
• We found that the extent to which people’s responses varied depended on the
painting’s own properties. In short, we cannot assume that people are going to
respond to the same painting in the same way, because as the amount of visual
stimulus or the complexity of the painting varies, the properties that people
focus on differs, thus they respond differently, even though physically they are
visually perceiving the same painting.
Slide 23– Conclusion (continued)
• We also know from this survey that emotion itself cannot be strictly triggered
by sense perception alone. Emotion can arise from many places, whether
through reasoning (e.g., feeling that the painting has no real value) or due to
• The significance of the role of these sources of emotion differs varyingly from
one individual to the other…
• Depending on their age, cultural background, education level, gender, etc. For
example, a very young child, of say, 4 years of age, would have little or no
understanding of the cultural purpose and significance of the art and would
thus respond to the painting based more on its physical properties.
Slide 24 – Conclusion (continued)
• Emotional response is also affected by other areas of knowledge
• When we interviewed a doctor, asking her why people responded so
negatively to line, we found that people tend to follow its pathway, so the eye
is constantly moving instead of being in a fixed position. Sense perception,
therefore, has an impact on emotion due to scientific reasons (the movement
of the eye that leads to a feeling of disorientation).
• Our mathematics teacher even noted that abstract expressionist art was known
to possess mathematical patterns known as “fractals”, which trigger a sense of
harmony and balance in the viewer.
• Here is a pictured example of one of Pollock’s painting’s fractal pattern
• Our art teacher told us about the significance of abstract expressionist art in
the context of history – and that Pollock’s work was beautiful because it
represented the rebellion of traditionalism and the freedom of artists after
World War II.
Slide 25 – Conclusion (continued)
• To conclude, while Pollock’s work might invoke a sense of calm and serenity
in some individuals, this is not definitely so for every single person and for
every one of his paintings, thus we don’t think abstract paintings would be
found hanging on the walls of every hospital or psychiatric ward anytime
Slide 26 – Conclusion (continued)
• Yes, sense perception affects the way we respond to abstract expressionist
paintings, but only to a certain extent. It is not the only factor in human
response. Reasoning, science, mathematics, maybe even history and the
natural sciences, depending on the individual’s level of knowledge or cultural
background are all other factors that play a part in the way we respond to
abstract expressionist paintings.