In this thoughtful, judicious, and fascinating book, you’ll find our best current answers to all the questions that thinking people ask about art, including what it is, what makes it great, whether it is universal, why we make and enjoy it, and whether it is good for us. How Art Works will be the place to look for knowledge on how art works for years to come.
Steven Pinker, Harvard University
Never have the links between the world of the arts and the sciences of the mind been so carefully and fruitfully drawn as they are in Winner's new book.
David Olson, University of Toronto
If you read one book on the psychology of art, make it this one. Ellen Winner gives us a book that celebrates the importance of art even as she remains grounded in experimental data and avoids hyperbole. She asks deceptively simple questions. What is art? Why do we make art? Does art make us better people? The clarity of her logic and the elegance of her prose as she answers these and other incisive questions makes this book a delight to read.
Anjan Chatterjee, University of Pennsylvania
Chosen as one of the 10 best art books of 2018. Painters Magazine, March 2019
This is an engaging project, and How Art Works is exhilarating in part because
Winner actually has some answers. Paul Bloom in The New Yorker. For full review by click here
Harvard Magazine: pdf
Review by Jeffrey Smith, Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, August 2019 pdf
This shift from philosophical analysis to a robust empirical approach of experiment and observation is the starting point of this book, which is a fascinating account of social scientists' investigations of art through interviews, experiments, data collection, and statistical analysis. Winner touches on a variety of topics ranging from music and emotion, fiction and empathy, the Mozart effect, and perfect fakes and forgeries, to Hockney's theory of optical aids, effort bias, artistic prodigies, deliberate practice and talent, and our curious enjoyment of negative emotions. Recommended for all readers.
The New York Times July 8 2018: pdf
Excerpted in The Wall Street Journal Oct. 19 2018: pdf
The Conversation: pdf
The Page 99 test: Click here
Interview in American Craft: Click here
Essay in Aeon: Click here
Interview on Gilded Birds: Click here
Excerpted in Boston College Magazine: Click here
Excerpted in Harvard Magazine: Click here
See this mention in the Boston Sunday Globe about art by immoral artists: Click here
Interview in Harvard Gazette: Click here
Uptown Radio: Program about sculpture "assembled by a cat" May 10 2019 Click here
Interview with Indre Viskontas on Inquiring Minds: Click here
The Hub on Art Australia, November 21 2018: click here
Think, on KERA public radio, Dallas, December 6 2018: click here
Interview with Michael Krasny on Forum, KQED radio in San Francisco March 18 2019: Click here
Interview on Kathryn Zox show May 1 2019 Click here
American Philosophical Society, November 10 2018: click here and start at 3:24
Bruce Museum, Greenwich, CT, January 7 2019
Harvard Book Store, February 8, 2019
Deans Distinguished Lecture Series, Dept of Education and Information Sciences, UCLA, March 4, 2019
RELEVANT BLOGS BY OTHERS
Our innate love of art (from The Big Think) click here
AMAZON READERS RESPOND
5.0 out of 5 stars Unique psychological exploration of art
November 21, 2018
This is a beautifully conceived and well-written book on a fascinating and previously unexplored topic. The illustrations are thoughtfully selected and it really enriches my understanding of the role of the perception of the viewer on art. A must!
5.0 out of 5 stars A page-turner
November 22, 2018
I received Winner's book the day before yesterday and began reading it immediately. I've already finished it. What a marvelous piece. My only regret is that although I had so much work to do, I was derailed because I couldn't put the book down. It's so smart and insightful, with the right balance between modesty and firm, well-reasoned opinions backed by research. And it is written by a master craftsman who knows how to weave an intriguing and nuanced tale. Anyone interested in the intersect of the arts and psychology (with lots more tossed in) must read this book, even if you are in the midst of other work.
5.0 out of 5 stars A thinking person's guide to art
November 25, 2018
This is a book not just for those who love art but for those who want to better understand art--how art differs from other human activities, how it conveys thoughts and emotions, and how it affects both children and adults in myriad other ways. The author masterfully combines rigor and systematic thinking with remarkable nuance and sensitivity. She may be a professor, but she writes like an incredibly well-informed, thoughtful friend explaining something fascinating to you in the most engaging way possible. I especially enjoyed the chapters exploring the well-worn reaction many have to modern art, "my kid could have done that!" and the question of whether doing art makes us smarter. In less than 250 pages this book covers a vast range of ideas, experiences and thought-provoking questions.
5.0 out of 5 stars Thoughtful and fascinating book!
November 25, 2018
Highly recommend!! Winner asks thoughtful questions on the psychology of the arts by reviewing and critiquing cutting edge research on this topic. Her writing is clear, engaging, and insightful. A must read for anyone interested in how art really works.
5.0 out of 5 stars Answers perennial questions about art with thoughtful analysis and persuasive evidence
December 16, 2018
How Art Works by Ellen Winner is a remarkable book. When we discuss particular works of art or art in general (including here the visual arts, literature, music, etc.), we often fall immediately into heartfelt and assertive opinion. Shakespeare is superior to Cervantes or not. Art improves the mind or does not. My five-year-old could have painted something just as attractive as that work by abstract expressionist Helen Frankenthaler. Taking as a point of departure the sorts of issues raised by both laypeople and philosophers, Winner turns to systematic psychological research, including considerable research conducted by her and her colleagues.
Chapter by chapter, How Art Works considers more than a dozen foundational questions. Is there any firm basis for declaring what's a work of art and what isn't? Do we truly hear emotion in music? Does engagement in literature foster empathy? Is involvement in making art therapeutic? It's something of a surprise that investigations have answered many of these questions persuasively. For instance, despite the "My five-year-old could have painted that" mantra, laypeople and even relatively young children fairly readily differentiate between superficially similar looking abstract works by children and renowned artists. Also, evidence indeed shows that art making affords a kind of therapeutic comfort...but not so much by working through one's problems as by providing ways of stepping out of the angst.
Of course, not every question gets a definitive answer. Sometimes results are mixed, sometimes there are methodological problems, sometimes the research just is not there. Winner is careful about her claims. She declares conclusions when well-evidenced and shares her best judgment about the matter when not. Most of us are probably happy enough with our shoot-from-the-hip opinions, but, for grounded and up-to-date insights expressed in lucid and engaging prose, there is no better place to turn than How Art Works.
5.0 out of 5 stars The mysteries of how art works, solved and unsolved
December 19, 2018
This book offers an extraordinary combination of social science detective stories, art appreciation moments, and respectful critiques of philosophers. A combination that is as enjoyable to read as it is instructive to study.
Detective stories. Many of the chapters begin as puzzles. Winner doggedly pursues each case, relying on the investigations of previous researchers in experimental psychology. Winner brings the research literature to life, and at appropriate moments even welcome the reader into her own lab. We learn, for example, that even if an attribution is false (indicating that the painting is fake when it is not; and vice versa), most people like and value more highly the object that is really by the artist. Interesting and somewhat reassuring.
Art appreciation. An experimental psychologists’ approach to art could easily turn into a reductionist exercise: my positive reaction to this painting or my love of this symphony are merely epiphenomena of brain activity, or possibly confused or repressed emotions. To the contrary, Winner takes our ordinary reactions seriously, sometimes validating them and sometimes correcting them. Reading literature may not make us more empathetic but acting or role playing does. We see more in abstract expressionism than we think we do.
Respectful critiques of philosophers. Winner respects the questions philosophers of art ask (and even some of their answers), but she shows that they accept some empirical assumptions that cannot be sustained. I think many readers will come away convinced that the psychologists’ inquiries are at least as interesting as those of philosophers, and probably more productive (in the sense of holding promise of reaching definite conclusions). The chapter on objectivity (exploring the puzzles about judgments of good and bad in art) struck me as a good example of taking philosophy seriously but turning the questions into more productive directions.
This book brings together in a highly readable form the contemporary work of psychologists of art, and in the process should stimulate anyone who appreciates art to think anew about emotion in art and judgment about art.
5.0 out of 5 stars Authoritative account
January 8, 2019
Ellen Winner has written a comprehensive and authoritative account of what psychological studies have shown in answering the common (and fascinating) questions that arise about art. Her prose is lucid and inviting, and she reports on a wealth of experiments -- including many designed and carried out by her own research group. If you are intrigued by whether music expresses emotions, whether people have emotional responses to paintings, whether your toddler can produce art as good as that of Mark Rothko or Jackson Pollock, whether literature helps make people morally better, or whether some people have inborn artistic talents that others lack, this is the book for you.
For anyone seriously interested in aesthetics it's a "must read".
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb!
January 8, 2019
If you're looking for an up to date and comprehensive book on the psychology of art production and reception, this is it. Winner's book is enlightening and delightful to read. It balances serious scientific methods and findings with an easy-to-read style. The summaries at the end of each chapter are very helpful.
5.0 out of 5 stars A Book essential for all lovers of visual and musical arts
March 3, 2019
Have you ever wondered why you consider a work of art to be good or bad, or whether making art improves your intelligence or overall wellbeing? Have you considered why an artistic reproduction, perfect or not, can never satisfy the way the original can? Do you know why and how music--even unfamiliar music—produces largely predictable emotions in the listener? Drawing upon decades of scholarship and first-hand research experience, Ellen Winner in How Art Works explores these and a host of additional questions that pique the curiosity of all art lovers. This book is a scientific page-turner, consistently accessible, fascinating, and itself an example of art that works.
5.0 out of 5 stars A deeply insightful book
March 10, 2019
Ellen Winner's book is an impressive overview of contemporary and historical reflections on one of our greatest questions, what is art. Written for a broad audience, "How Art Works" draws from a large body of scientific, philosophical and artistic research. Ellen Winner examines why abstract visual forms elicit similar emotions in people from different cultures, which specific features of music trigger emotional responses, and whether literature can make us more empathetic; these are just a few examples of the rich array of insights in the book. This work will clearly be a reference for many years to come for everyone interested in the past, present and future of aesthetics.