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Journal Article

Nature versus art as elicitors of the sublime: A virtual reality study


Clewis,  Robert
Department of Language and Literature, Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics, Max Planck Society;
Department of Philosophy, Gwynedd Mercy University;

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Chirico, A., Clewis, R., Yaden, D. B., & Gaggioli, A. (2021). Nature versus art as elicitors of the sublime: A virtual reality study. PLoS One, 16(3): e0233628. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0233628.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0009-BB21-F
The sublime–the mixed aesthetic experience of uplift and elevation in response to a powerful or vast object that otherwise is experienced as menacing–has nurtured philosophical discourse for centuries. One of the major philosophical issues concerns whether the sublime is best thought of as a subjective response or as a stimulus. Recently, psychology has conceived of the sublime as an emotion, often referred to as awe, arising from natural or artistic stimuli that are great, rare, and/or vast. However, it has not yet been empirically demonstrated whether two major elicitors of the sublime–nature and art–differ in inducing this state. In order to experimentally compare nature and art, we exposed 50 participants to sublimity-inducing content in two different formats (nature-based and art-based) using 360° videos. We compared Vincent Van Gogh’s The Starry Night with a photorealistic version of the actual place depicted in the painting, Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. We measured participants’ emotional responses before and after each exposure, as well as the sense of presence. The nature-based format induced higher intensity emotional responses than the art-based format. This study compares different sublime stimuli (nature vs. art) for eliciting the sublime.