In the Brain of the Beholder

A closer look at how we experience art and film

The Creativity of Advertising, Media, & Movies: Got Art?

We as beholders should relish in the wonders of artful creations...anywhere!

Think different… We've only just begun… Got milk? These slogans and their associated commercials came from the creative minds of marketing agencies, and their impact on society is considerable. Some of you might recollect the momentous event when Apple introduced the Macintosh computer in a stunning commercial during the 1984 Super Bowl. The ad ran like a short film depicting images of an Orwellian future where people behave like automatons and watch mindlessly as their leader, projected on a huge screen, expresses the importance of "one will, one resolve, one cause." Intercut between these images is an emboldened woman who rushes up to the screen with a large sledgehammer, launches the weapon in hammer-throw fashion, and shatters the image of the dictator. Amazingly, the computer itself is never shown in the commercial.

We are creatures of habit as we tend to prefer constancy and familiarity in our lives. We expect a stable world with objects placed in their usual spots and people behaving in their usual manners. Moreover, every eye fixation captures only a small circle of information, such that as you read this sentence you are only seeing three or four words in focus. Much of the environment is not even registered by our minds, yet with the expectation of a constant environment we appropriately fill in the missing bits. That is why we often miss bloopers in movies, which we may notice later after someone has pointed them out to us. Research by Levin & Simons (1997, see video) has shown that our attentional focus is rather limited such that we often experience "change blindness" and are oblivious to scene alternations when we are not attending to them. As a way of capitalizing on this psychological phenomenon, Yahoo in 2008 gradually introduced a new look to their home page by imperceptibly changing features across days. Similarly, eBay took 30 days to modify its background from gray to white. It is likely that many people incurred change blindness and didn't even notice these alterations.

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Creativity is often described as moving against the flow of the standard or familiar. The flip side of familiarity is novelty, and creative events—such as those commercials that turn our heads and become part of our living culture—can be viewed as moments that make us think and feel in new and refreshing ways. Such aesthetic appeal works in the same way we appreciate the various objects we identify as "art," as we can enjoy any artifact that makes us see, think, and feel in new ways. Interestingly, this month Yahoo initiated a creative marketing strategy: each day they're changing their logo design, planning finally to introduce their new permanent logo next month.

Thus instead of making a design change subtly as they did in 2008, the current ad campaign forces us to take notice of the change and allows us to become accustomed to change itself.

Whenever we experience art—or any event for that matter—we do so with prior knowledge at hand. We apply knowledge of the world, of our culture, and of personal events as we consider objects and events we enjoy seeing and experiencing. With respect to art, we know that an "artist" has created a work for us to appreciate aesthetically, and we evaluate such things in terms of their novelty and the way they offer an interesting point of view. For commercials and other ad campaigns, we know that they were created with the primary purpose of selling products.

Yet we can appreciate ads in much the same way we appreciate artworks. Indeed, we have no problem evaluating a movie or TV series with respect to its "artistic" features, even though such products are also created largely for monetary purposes. We must acknowledge that art is not just in galleries or hanging on our walls. We can and should appreciate and experience "art" at any time and any place, from commercials to new product designs to TV shows and movies. Thus, the joy of experiencing art is everywhere and whenever possible we should just do it

Arthur P. Shimamura, Ph.D. is Professor of Psychology at the University of California, Berkeley.

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