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On the ‘beholder’s share’ – how past experience influences our perception of art

The Austrian art historian Alois Riegl first discussed how past experience shapes our enjoyment of – contempt for, or boredom with – a work of art. In 1900, he introduced the idea, later called the ‘beholder’s share’, that a viewer brings personal meanings to a work, and this interplay makes all art a collaboration between artist and audience. Today, neuroscience shows how our experiences actually shape our perceptions, as the brain uses the past to make sense of the outside world. In this animation, produced for the Future of Storytelling summit in 2018, the UK cognitive and computational neuroscientist Anil Seth discusses how this ‘predictive perception’ is central to our experience of art, and why art that intrigues and engages us tugs at the fringes of past experience.

Production: Lazy Chief

Animators: Steve West, Thomas Kilburn

2 October 2018

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