Handbooks of Research Methods and Applications series
Edited by Luigino Bruni and Pier Luigi Porta
Chapter 16: Culture and fine arts: open-ended choices and the formation of interest
One of the fundamental dimensions of art is its ability to de-familiarize, to question the known, to create a contrast with the patterns of everyday life. But if art creates doubts, if it challenges our certainties and our ‘learned’ responses, why should we regard it as interesting, much less enjoyable? Recent psychological literature on aesthetic preferences has addressed precisely this question and has begun to analyze the emotional and affective value of complex goods such as art. We are used to thinking of aesthetic preferences as related to art only. Yet aesthetics has a much larger scope and includes all those goods and activities that we enjoy for the challenges they provide in terms of novelty and complexity, goods that include design and architecture, fashion and advertising, but range also to activities such as conversation and conviviality, political and social involvement, and the enjoyment of nature. What is argued in this chapter is that creative activities, pursued primarily for the intrinsic reward they provide, are also those mainly responsible for keeping curiosity, exploration and interest alive. Because of their complexity and evolving nature, these activities are open ended. They allow for constant new connections and associations to be discovered and pursued. This makes them the material for an engaging and enjoyable life.
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