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.
- virtual reality