My research can be divided into two broad categories. One the one hand I am seeking to develop a theory of art and aesthetics that is consistent with contemporary science by combining ideas and findings from philosophy, sociology, psychology, cognitive neuroscience and economics. On the other hand I take an active interest in globalization, economics and urbanization, which feeds and interacts with my creative work.
My background is in mathematics, or econometrics to be more precise, and philosophy. This sort of explains why I believe in models, numbers and statistics. A limitation of introspection and thought experiments is that you can only follow one line of thought at a time. In order to see what happens when several mechanisms interact you need to develop a model.
My thinking has been influenced by post-structuralist philosophy, most notably Jacques Rancière, Jean-François Lyotard, Jean-Luc Nancy, Gilles Deleuze, Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida, though in recent years my thinking has gravitated more towards the later Wittgenstein. The work of Jacques Rancière remains a source of inspiration though.
Another major influence on my thinking is complexity theory. One of the central tenets in complexity theory is that the interaction of a set of simple rules can give rise to complex behavior. Such behavior is often termed emergent, because its seeds cannot be found in any of the individual rules, but only in their interaction.
In recent years my research has shifted from the cognitive and neural underpinnings of dance and choreography to more general questions regarding art, aesthetics and the brain. My research grew out of a dissatisfaction with contemporary aesthetics on the one hand and with the work of the handful of neuroscientists who have written about art on the other. Whereas philosophers tend to ignore recent insights from psychology and cognitive neuroscience most neuroscientists and psychologists are oblivious of contemporary aesthetics and ignore much of what is and has been happening in contemporary art. My own approach therefore differs from much of what is presented under the heading neuroaesthetics.
My research starts from three observations: that there are various patterns in art; that art can cause various effects in an observer; and that there are patterns in people's responses to art. The central thesis in my research is that there is a relationship between a work's aesthetic properties and an observer's aesthetic experience, broadly conceived as the totality of thoughts, feelings, memories and associations occasioned by the observation of an object’s or event’s formal, aesthetic, symbolic or expressive properties.
Some of the questions that interest me are: Why are we startled and aroused when we watch a thriller, even though we know it is only a movie? Why are we sometimes brought to tears when we hear a particular song and why do other songs give us the chills even after hearing it 20 times or more? Why are we filled with awe when we walk into an immense space? What is interesting about conceptual art?
I believe that one can address these questions by combining insights from philosophy, psychology and cognitive neuroscience. However, even a synthesis of psychology, philosophy and neurobiology will only tell part of the story. A sociologist might point out that whatever an individual thinks is always a function of the group to which he or she belongs or wants to belong to. An anthropologist might comment that although people are the same in their basic propensities, when it comes to art and aesthetic judgement differences in language and culture cannot be discounted. Still, I believe that such a synthesis will have more explanatory power than each of these disciplines alone.
Neuroscientists who write about art tend to confine their analysis to beauty. This is the majority view of art. Even art and dance critics often praise a work when it is beautiful and denounce it when it isn't. But art does not have to be beautiful. It doesn't have to entertain either. It doesn't have to be anything as long as it is something. It can be boring to watch, yet interesting to see. Such is the paradoxical logic of aesthetic judgement.