Responses to Abstract Art

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John F
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Responses to Abstract Art

Post by John F » Wed Jan 16, 2019 9:33 am

This is on a topic that was raised some time ago by Simkin: is there a qualitative difference between abstract art created by adult human artists and daubs of paint by children or animals. The author of this article, an experimental psychologist, has conducted research designed to find out, more rigorous than the material Simkin posted here, and the short answer is yes people can tell the difference, not always but about 2/3 of the time. The article takes up other art-related topics and is too long to post here but I think it's all worth reading.

Whys of seeing
Ellen Winner

...Chimps, monkeys and elephants have all been given paints, brushes and paper on which to make marks. And their paintings, like those of preschoolers, bear a superficial resemblance to abstract expressionist paintings. Who hasn’t heard someone deride abstract art as requiring no skill at all, with statements such as ‘My kid could have done that!’

We wanted to find out whether people see more than they think they do in abstract art – whether they can see the mind behind the work. We created pairs of images that looked eerily alike at first glance. Each pair consisted of a painting by a famous abstract expressionist whose works were found in at least one major art-history textbook (eg, Mark Rothko, Hans Hofmann, Sam Francis, Cy Twombly, Franz Kline and others) and a painting either by a child or a nonhuman animal (chimp, gorilla, monkey or elephant). The question we asked was whether people would prefer, and judge as better, works by artists over works by children and animals. And, if so, on what basis?

We set up the study so that people first saw 10 pairs of paintings without any labels revealing who made them, followed by 20 more pairs with authorship information under each image: one labelled ‘artist’ and the other labelled ‘child’, ‘chimp’, ‘gorilla’, ‘monkey’ or ‘elephant’. Of these 20, half were randomly labelled correctly, and half incorrectly (thus a Hofmann painting might have been labelled ‘child’). If people can’t distinguish between works by artists and by untrained children and animals, we should expect chance to play a part in their responses to the first 10 unlabelled pairs, which would mean choosing works by artists they liked more or saw as better only 50 per cent of the time. But this did not happen. For both the like and the better questions, participants selected the works by artists at an above-chance level. And when our respondents chose a work by an artist as better or preferred, they often explained their choice by referring to the mind behind the work, saying that it looked more thought-out, intentional and planned. Such mentalistic explanations were significantly more frequent following the choice of the artist’s actual work (whatever the label).

We have repeated this experiment in different ways – for example, presenting the works one at a time rather than in pairs, and asking which is by the artist vs the child or animal – and we find that, overall, people are correct about two-thirds of the time, a rate that is significantly above chance responding. Most importantly, when we asked people to rate each image on the dimension of perceived intentionality (without telling them that some were by children and animals), we found that those by artists received significantly higher intentionality ratings. This led us to conclude that people see more than they think they see in abstract art – they see the mind behind the work, and this is what leads them to distinguish between works by artists and by children or animals, and what leads them to classify artists’ works as better.

Moreover, when people do make mistakes, they are operating on the basis of perceived intentionality: those artists’ works rated as low in intentionality get misidentified as having been done by children or animals; and those works by children and animals rated high in intentionality get misidentified as done by artists. What this shows is that we evaluate abstract art by inferring (rightly or wrongly) the mind behind the art. Just as we evaluate an original as better than a forgery because we infer the mind of the original master behind the original work... ... rstand-art
Last edited by John F on Wed Jan 16, 2019 1:21 pm, edited 1 time in total.
John Francis

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Re: Responses to Abstract Art

Post by lennygoran » Wed Jan 16, 2019 9:50 am

John enjoyed the article-we just came from a great show at the metropolitan museum of art a few weeks ago-Epic Abstraction-highly recommended! Len




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