But I think what Chris is talking about is more than just an emotional response when he's talking about that "subconscious response". I think it's more like learning pure, raw information + emotional response. In fact, fast learners use emotional/ visceral responses in combination with pure observation to nail down complex concepts quickly. His example of "A lecture on wind dynamics" and "A yacht straining under full sail" is a fantastic example. We are more likely to understand the latter because it's based on sheer observation. Anyone can make observations. It's pure, raw information our brains are processing here. The yacht example can be comparable to how a child learns to read and write letters. When a child sees letters, they see them as pure shapes (sorta like the calligraphy border in Shazia Sikander's work or the text in Luigi Serafini's codex). They don't understand the symbolic representations of the language. That takes years of conditioning. This is the kind of conditioning that can filter our subconscious responses to art.
In Semir Zeki's book, Inner Visions: An Exploration of Art and the Brain, he draws a connection between neuroscience information and art to provide a context for how we see art. According to him, our brains have five distinct areas that focuses on certain aspects of visual information: color, shapes, line/orientation, movement, and face recognition. (There's more obviously, like light and depth, but I think that's lumped in amongst these areas if I remember correctly. Feel free to correct me on this.)
Anyway, Zeki provides some good examples of these brain areas in action. One of them is kinetic art. Under this sub-topic, he explains the relationship of these areas, namely color and motion. The area that focuses on color tends to pick up lots of color information, obviously. However, the area on motion limits the amount of color we see so that we can focus on seeing motion. (Here's a TED video on Project Prakash, which shows this relationship in action between 9:02 and 12:26). Alexander Calder's work in particular shows an intuitive understanding of this concept by limiting the amount of color he uses.
It's not to say that this applies to modern art alone. It can also apply to a variety of art, including the Old Masters! Take a look at an example of Vermeer's work.
Some of the things that our brains can see here is face recognition (seeing a believable rendition of a human face) and color, but there's more. Not only was Vermeer a master draftsman. He was also amazing with composition. Just look at all the rectangular motifs and how they're all oriented in relation to each other! What Vermeer is also doing here is "tickling" our brain's appreciation for shapes and line/orientation.
James Gurney has also written about this very same topic and book on his blog (and does a way better job than this lengthy post ): How Art Activates the Brain, Neuroesthetics.
My point though is that our cultural responses are very distinct from our physical responses, whether they be the motion in Calder's mobiles, the shapes and implied lines in Vermeer's painting, or even the object recognition in a moving image on a screen. If that weren’t the case, it’d be sorta like saying our brains depend on cultural associations to see how people move in space. That’d be kinda silly, wouldn’t it?