Visual Dissonance: Robert L. Solso

Visual Dissonance is defined as a state of psychological tension caused when one experiences a disparity between what one expects to see and what one actually sees. The concept is related to a well-known phenomenon in social psychology called cognitive dissonance, which happens when we perceive a discrepency among our attitudes and/or our behaviour. Our eyes see the world of art with a thousand expectations based on our personality and our cognitive structure (knowledge system). Sometimes these expectations are fulfilled, sometimes not. In the case of unfulfilled expectations, the viewer is required to resolve his or her tension, or simply to abandon the piece and consider another. An important part of human motivation is found in dissonance reduction, in that people do not (normally) choose to live in a state of psychological tension. In psychological terms, such a state is aversive, to be avoided or resolved. (Solso 1933: 235)

Much of art has been purposely designed to generate a form of creative tension in the viewer that cries out for resolution. In many forms of classic art, the artist presented social issues that embarrassed the establishment, while many contemporary artists present visual statements about art, religion, psychoanalysis, as well as social conditions. All of these are intended to motivate the thinking person to find a deeper meaning in the art. Although these disturbing art forms may not be as comforting as viewing a Norman Rockwell illustration, they demand active participation in the construction of “reality.” (Solso 1933: 237)

Solso. R. L. (1933) The Psychology of Art and the Evolution of the Conscious Brain. London. MIT Press.

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