An Interview with Gerald Cupchik: Technology Enhanced Texts

About Gerald Cupchik
Gerald Cupchik completed his undergraduate studies at the University of Michigan (1967), received his Masters (1970) and PhD (1972) from the University of Wisconsin, and did postdoctoral research at the University of Toronto (1972-74) with Daniel Berlyne where he has been a professor of psychology since 1974. He was president of the International Association for Empirical Aesthetics (1990-94), APA Division 10 Psychology and the Arts (1996-97), the International Society for the Empirical Study of Literature and Media (1998-2000), and received the Rudolf Arnheim Award in 2010 from the APA. He recently published The aesthetics of emotion: up the down staircase of the mind-body (Cambridge University Press) with an accompanying open access website (http://uoft.me/aestheticsofemotion). His research interests cover aesthetics, design and imagination processes, media engagement, emotional experience, and social communication. You can read more about Gerald at http://utsc.utoronto.ca/~cupchik/.


Professor Cupchik, I have just finished reading your book entitled “The Aesthetics of Emotion.” First of all, why did you write this book?

I have tried to reconcile two opposing views of what emotions are and the result was Emotional Phase Theory. A main idea of this book is that we experience emotions in situations that touch upon three pairs of life themes: Attachment – Loss (happiness – sadness), Fight – Flight (anger – fear), and Attraction – Repulsion (interest – disgust). In our mammalian ancestry, emotions were very fast reflex-like (i.e., instinctual) reactions to particular stimuli that fostered survival (e.g., escape when faced with a predator). Among humans, the same themes prevail but fixed “stimuli” turn into complex situations that are interpreted through nuanced conversation. Thus, emotions are feelings filled with meaning related to the self in life situations. Bodily memories shape these experiences just like the stylistic background in Impressionist or Expressionist painting colour how we see the subject matter.

Now, you have integrated technology into this book in a fashion I have never seen before. What led you to this decision?

The introduction of technology came about almost by accident. Cambridge University Press would only publish black and white images in the text. My graduate student, Ian Dennis Miller, suggested that we insert QR codes below each image that could be scanned by Smart Devices and take the reader to a website where the colour images are archived. Once we started building the library, this led to the idea of video recording a series of Open Access lectures to provide viewers/readers with some idea of what the book is about. Then we decided to interview the artists (curator and composer) to give viewers additional insight into what shapes creative projects. All this culminated in a roundtable discussion involving Andrew Egan, manager of web design, Bobby Glushko, who at the time was the University of Toronto head of copyright matters in the library, George Cree, Chair of the Psychology Department, and me. We discussed the notion of “kinetic publishing,” a process whereby the boundaries between page and screen become porous so as to enhance the experience of scholarship. http://uoft.me/aestheticsofemotion

First you have a web site that contains a series of lecture. Tell us about the first lecture and how it corresponds to the book and chapters.

The lectures roughly correspond the book but were filmed after it went to press and go beyond it. The first lecture tries to build a bridge between science and humanities by showing that science can sometimes look like art and vice-versa. Each lecture is about 20 minutes long and introduces a different idea about art and emotion discussed in the book.

Your book is filled with beautiful illustrations and links. Why this tactic?

These illustrations, including photographs, paintings, photographs of installations, and an original cartoon illustration try to bring the word to life. The links (QR codes) provide direct access to the images and website which includes additional resources such as the 270 page transcription of an autobiographical interview done in 1973 with Daniel Berlyne (1928-1976), my postdoctoal advisor and a founder to modern day empirical aesthetics.

You have a number of artists that you discuss AND provide their Website,  allowing the reader to delve deeply into the work of these artist. How did you come up with this idea ?

Everything unfolded naturally. Stacey Spiegal put me in touch with Ihor Holubizky, senior curator of the art collection at McMaster University in Hamilton near Toronto. Ihor suggested that I use a painting from the collection called Poseidon for the cover of my book. It was painted by the Toronto artist Tony Scherman. The next day my friend Harry Tiefenbach invited me to lunch with him and “his friend” Tony Scherman. And so the circle closed. Ihor wrote the introduction to Chapter (Eleven) on the artist’s imagination and I invited artists whom I know (and a composer, Yuval Avital) to contribute their images. I audio recorded and transcribed interviews about their chosen pieces. This later morphed into the idea of interviewing them when a sculptor friend from graduate school days, Bernie Lubell, was visiting from San Francisco. In short, it was all magic and unfolded according to the necessary karma.

Can you name some of the artists and provide what you consider to be superlative websites?

Why do you think it’s important to integrate technology into a current text?

Integrating technology into the text had a practical function so that readers could see the original images in colour. But this opened doors to new ideas about how best to spread the word. Technology is not an end all and be all. Reading is a slow and private process of engagement, particularly for a work like mine which is so concentrated in its scholarship. But it was important for me to go beyond my natural disposition to think in a nineteenth century manner and reach out. This use of technology was just a beginning, a kind of experiment.

It bears noting a comment in the New York Times by Aaron Fichtelberg, a professor from the University of Delaware. “Presentation software turns good teachers into mediocre one and mediocre lectures into a sludge of unengaging facts.” Michael Hadjiargyrou, from the New York Institute of Technology, commented that “a lecture is equivalent to a theatrical performance: capturing the attention of students with movement around the room, voice inflections, emotional and physical gestures, interactions (questions)…”

The mere presence of new technology does not replace the values of human contact. This year I decided to video record my lectures so that students could review them after class. The result was that two thirds of the students chose not to come to class but to view the lectures at their convenience. I will never be so kind again! We need breathing, warm students in class to create a viable educational atmosphere so that professors can perform and students can have an engaged educational experience.

In short, technology must be introduced in a judicious manner with a particular purpose whether it is to share courses with students who are in remote locations or offer demonstrations that can only be video recorded, and so forth. Technology cannot replace human intellectual contact or teachers become irrelevant.

If a reader wanted to contact you, say via Skype or e-mail to discuss portions of your book, would you be amenable to that?

One can look for my lectures at the book’s website or on Youtube, most recently my lecture to the German Photographic Society in November 2016 on the topic of Smart device photography.

I don’t exist on Facebook or interact with people on Skype and I am not a clinician. If people want to write me about my lectures, articles, or book, I would be happy to answer their questions. I don’t want to read long messages and I don’t write long responses. But I am quick to respond!

Who publishes your book and do YOU have a web site ?

Gerald C. Cupchik (2016). The aesthetics of emotion: Up the down staircase of the mind-body. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. http://uoft.me/aestheticsofemotion


Michael ShaughnessyAbout the Author
Michael F. Shaughnessy is currently Full Professor at Eastern New Mexico University, in Portales, New Mexico, where he also directs the New Mexico Educational Software Clearinghouse. He has authored, edited, or co-edited approximately 30 books and authored or co-authored approximately 500 articles in various journals and online publications.

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