Ellen Winner


How Art Works:
A Psychological Exploration

This event includes a book signing


February 8, 2019
3:00 PM


Harvard Book Store
1256 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138


This event is free; no tickets are required.

Harvard Book Store welcomes award-winning psychologist and Boston College professor ELLEN WINNER for a discussion of her new book, How Art Works: A Psychological Exploration.

About How Art Works

There is no end of talk and of wondering about 'art' and 'the arts.' This book examines a number of questions about the arts (broadly defined to include all of the arts). Some of these questions come from philosophy. Examples include:

· What makes something art? 
· Can anything be art? 
· Do we experience "real" emotions from the arts? 
· Why do we seek out and even cherish sorrow and fear from art when we go out of our way to avoid these very emotions in real life? 
· How do we decide what is good art? Do aesthetic judgments have any objective truth value? 
· Why do we devalue fakes even if we—indeed, even the experts—can't tell them apart from originals? 
· Does fiction enhance our empathy and understanding of others? Is art-making therapeutic? 

Others are "common sense" questions that laypersons wonder about. Examples include:

· Does learning to play music raise a child's IQ? 
· Is modern art something my kid could do? 
· Is talent a matter of nature or nurture? 

This book examines puzzles about the arts wherever their provenance—as long as there is empirical research using the methods of social science (interviews, experimentation, data collection, statistical analysis) that can shed light on these questions. The examined research reveals how ordinary people think about these questions, and why they think the way they do—an inquiry referred to as intuitive aesthetics. The book shows how psychological research on the arts has shed light on and often offered surprising answers to such questions.


"Ambitious, covering everything from figurative paintings to abstract expressionism, tonal music, novels, and theatre. This is an engaging project, and How Art Works is exhilarating in part because Winner actually has some answers." —New Yorker

"In this thoughtful, judicious, and fascinating book, you'll find our best current answers to all the questions that thinking people ask about art, including what it is, what makes it great, whether it is universal, why we make and enjoy it, and whether it is good for us. How Art Works will be the place to look for knowledge on how art works for years to come." —Steven Pinker, author of How the Mind Works and Enlightenment Now

"Never have the links between the world of the arts and the sciences of the mind been so carefully and fruitfully drawn as they are in Winner's new book." —David Olson, University Professor Emeritus, University of Toronto

Ellen Winner
Ellen Winner

Ellen Winner

Ellen Winner is Professor of Psychology at Boston College and Senior Research Associate at Project Zero, Harvard Graduate School of Education. She directs the Arts and Mind Lab, which focuses on cognition in the arts in typical and gifted children as well as adults. Winner received the Rudolf Arnheim Award for Outstanding Research by a Senior Scholar in Psychology and the Arts from Division 10. She has written over 200 articles and is the author of four books—Invented Worlds: The Psychology of the Arts; The Point of Words: Children's Understanding of Metaphor and Irony; Gifted Children: Myths and Realities; and How Art Works: A Psychological Exploration—and coauthor of three others.

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Event Series: Friday Forum

Harvard Book Store's Friday Forum series takes place on Friday afternoons during the academic year as a way to highlight scholarly books in a wide range of fields, with a particular focus on local scholars. Friday Forums take place at 3pm in Harvard Book Store.

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