The best books on the science of art and aesthetics

The Books I Picked & Why

How Art Works: A Psychological Exploration

By Ellen Winner

How Art Works: A Psychological Exploration

Why this book?

If you read one book on the psychology of art, make it this one. 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 make this book a delight to read.


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Homo Aestheticus: Where Art Comes From and Why

By Ellen Dissanayake

Homo Aestheticus: Where Art Comes From and Why

Why this book?

Ellen Dissanayake was a primary force in the modern era to bring evolution into the conversation of why we have and often revere art. For her, art promotes social cohesion in small groups and making objects special through ritual lies at the root of making art. If you want to learn about how evolution might have promoted the creation of art, this book is the place to start.


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Feeling Beauty: The Neuroscience of Aesthetic Experience

By G. Gabrielle Starr

Feeling Beauty: The Neuroscience of Aesthetic Experience

Why this book?

This book is an excellent example of interdisciplinarity. Gabrielle Starr is a humanist—a literary scholar, by training—who probes neuroscience methods and how brain sciences can contribute to our understanding of aesthetics. She addresses literature, poetry, music, and visual art with ideas informed by experimental neuroaesthetics work.


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Understanding the Beauty Appreciation Trait: Empirical Research on Seeking Beauty in All Things

By Rhett Diessner

Understanding the Beauty Appreciation Trait: Empirical Research on Seeking Beauty in All Things

Why this book?

Most scientific books on aesthetics focus on universal and generalizable principles. Rhett Diessner also does so in reviewing the psychological and neuroscience of the human experience of beauty. What sets this book apart from many others is that he also considers individual differences and how personality traits affect our aesthetic sensibilities. If you wonder why people vary in their appreciation of beauty, this is a book worth reading.


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Brain, Beauty, and Art: Essays Bringing Neuroaesthetics Into Focus

By Anjan Chatterjee, Eileen Cardilo

Brain, Beauty, and Art: Essays Bringing Neuroaesthetics Into Focus

Why this book?

This collection of essays will bring you up-to-date with the neuroscience of aesthetics. Each essay is written by foundational researchers whose empirical work launched the field. The essays are anchored to an original, peer-reviewed paper from the short history of this new and burgeoning discipline. Together, these essays establish the territory and current boundaries of neuroaesthetics and identify its most promising future directions.


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