In this study we investigated the relationship between aesthetic experience and other emotional qualities judged in paintings. Aesthetic experience was defined as an exceptional state of mind in which a person is focused on a particular object, transcending its everyday uses and meanings and losing the awareness of surroundings and even of himself/herself. In this state a person has an exceptional emotional experience, that is a feeling of unity with the object. Our basic idea is that aesthetic experience is not reducible to pleasure or a positive hedonic tone, but a person can equally be fascinated with both pleasant and unpleasant objects. In preliminary studies we specified the stimulus set of figural and semi-figural paintings, and a set of descriptors of emotions, feelings and aesthetic experience. Participants judged the paintings on descriptors (seven-point scales). Factor analysis revealed two large factors: the bipolar factor Affective Tone (descriptors on the positive pole: lovely, charming, cheerful, etc; descriptors on the negative pole: scary, disgusting, hateful etc.) and Aesthetic Experience (descriptors: exceptional, profound, unique, etc.). Additional analyses have shown no significant correlation between the two factors. These findings confirmed our idea that aesthetic experience is independent of pleasure or affective attraction, and that it can be induced by both pleasant and unpleasant paintings.
free text keywords: aesthetic experience, emotions, paintings