Unintentionally explained in a recent Science article:
While current neuroscientific methods are adept at probing stable and relatively universal properties of our minds, they are challenged by historically contingent qualities of art, such as the intent of an artist or redefinitions of what constitutes art, as French-American artist Marcel Duchamp did famously with his urinal museum piece in 1917. Artworks are often vehicles for ideas embedded in specific contexts. The meaning of individual works of art can be fluid and subject to different interpretations across viewers, cultures, and time. Reactions to art—whether joy, disgust, or anger—often pertain to the ideas being conveyed. Understanding the context in which the work was produced, the intent of the artists, and the historical and cultural conversation in which it was engendered enhances one’s appreciation. Neuroscience methods do not easily grasp these complex aspects of the richly textured meaning of art.
These are early days in neuroaesthetics, and the contours of the field’s methods and research agenda continue to evolve. …
The problem is, it’s just not clear then how to apply the methods of science to something that depends so much on the unstable and non-universal. At least in this piece, neuroscientist Anjan Chatterjee avoided crackpot evo psych theories. We needn’t trip over our own banana peels if we focus on art and responses thereto for which we have actual evidence—instead of making claims about what our early ancestors supposedly “would have” liked and found meaningful. We can’t usually even predict that for the future a century hence.