What is it about?

When we look at a face, we usually see it as a whole, integrated image, not just a combination of individual parts such as the nose, mouth and eyes. This is what we mean when we talk about 'holistic processing'. However, there's a bit of debate about how we perceive and interpret faces in artwork, such as those in Picasso's cubist paintings. Our findings suggest that we tend to view faces in art holistically. This holds true regardless of the art style, whether it's hyper-realistic or more abstract and distorted.

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Why is it important?

The study's findings can help enrich our understanding and appreciation of art. Even if we're not consciously aware of it, we're processing and appreciating the face in a painting as a whole, not just as individual features. This holistic approach enables us to discern emotions, impressions, and stories embedded in the artwork, thereby amplifying our overall experience and connection with the artwork. Interestingly, we also found that people who have lots of exposure to art generally tend to see faces less as a whole and more as a collection of components. This suggests that if you're an art lover, you might be inclined to focus on the intricate elements of the artwork, breaking it down and analyzing it piece by piece. Conversely, those with good general visual recognition abilities were more likely to process faces holistically, suggesting a better capacity to integrate and group visual information. This underscores that individual differences, such as visual recognition abilities and interests in art can impact how we experience and engage with art.

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This page is a summary of: From Perugino to Picasso: Holistic processing of faces in paintings., Psychology of Aesthetics Creativity and the Arts, July 2023, American Psychological Association (APA), DOI: 10.1037/aca0000575.
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