The pioneering abstract painter Wassily Kandinsky (whose work is pictured) suggested that the emotional effects of abstract art are “objective, determined by the characteristics of the colours and their interactions”. If that is true, machines should be able to get a handle on those emotions, too.
It turns out that they can. A team led by Nicu Sebe at the University of Trento in Italy used machine vision to analyse 500 abstract paintings at the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art of Trento and Rovereto. The system measured how colour is distributed across each work, as well as the occurrence of different shapes or outlines. Using data on how 100 people responded to the paintings, the system then worked out what emotional impact these elements had. For example, black, spiky features tended to correspond to the bleaker end of the emotional spectrum, whereas bright, smooth features were more feel-good.