The cry of “my kid paints better than that!” might become even less common in museums and galleries after a new study byAngelina Hawley-Dolan and Ellen Winner. The pair set out to see if there was a preference toward art produced by established artists in the wild form of abstract expressionism, and the art produced by toddlers, monkeys, and elephants.For the test they assembled 32 art students and 40 psychology students, the latter chosen because of they were not experienced in artistic criticism. The paintings were organized by attributes like color and line for a fair comparison, and the students asked to choose which they preferred.
The researchers found that there was a firm preference for professional artists in both groups, averaging a 60-70% in favor of the artists. This proved true even when the students were misled about the origin of the art. From Discover:
Hawley-Dolan and Winner also found that it didn’t matter if the students were duped into thinking that the paintings came from the wrong “artist”. The duo labelled the pairs of paintings on some of the tests (“artist”, “child”, “monkey” or “elephant”) and mislabelled them on others. Even with these tags, the students still preferred the actual professional painting.
On one hand, this research does give more insight into bias and preferences. The fact that professionally produced art is preferred despite labeling suggests that human bias may not be as ingrained as we thought — that we can have our own opinions, regardless of what we are told about value.On the other hand, it skirts around the edges of asserting an inherent value to art, which is uncomfortable territory for a scientist. Art is fickle; a work can be breathtaking in its technical proficiency and be boring, or simple and childlike and convey volumes, or it can be either of them and not regarded simply because people don’t like it. Though poetic, this quote from the researchers might ruffle some feathers:
People may say that a child could have made a work by a recognized abstract expressionist, but when forced to choose between a work by a child and one by a master such as Rothko, they are drawn to the Rothko even when the work is falsely attributed to a child or nonhuman. People see the mind behind the art.
This study is clearly not going to change any minds about the kind of work that goes into something like a Jackson Polluck. People like what they like, but the study suggests that there is more to art than simple preference. An artist can, and if he or she is successful, will, reach a level of expertise where their abilities can move across lines of taste and reach the audience.(via Discover, image Jane Frank Crags and Crevices via Wikipedia)
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