The psychology of the arts with Professor Ellen Winner

by leslierankowfinearts

ELLEN WINNER Professor and Chair, Department of Psychology Boston College

ELLEN WINNER
Professor and Chair, Department of Psychology
Boston College

 

ELLEN WINNER, PROFESSOR AND CHAIR OF THE DEPARTMENT OF PSYCHOLOGY AT  BOSTON COLLEGE, HAS DEDICATED HER PROFESSIONAL LIFE TO THE STUDY OF THE ARTS FROM A PSYCHOLOGICAL PERSPECTIVE. I WAS DELIGHTED TO HAVE THE OPPORTUNITY MEET HER AT AN ANNUAL EVENT THAT I ALWAYS ANTICIPATE WITH PLEASURE: THE BENEFACTOR LUNCH AT THE MUSEUM OF MODERN ART. THE DEDICATION ON THE PART OF THE TRUSTEES,THE MUSEUM’S DIRECTOR, GLENN LOWRY, AND THE STAFF TO THE MUSEUM IS SO GENUINE AND INSPIRING.

SINCE THIS YEAR’S SPEAKER, WENDY WOON, HEADS THE MUSEUM’S DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION, I WAS PARTICULARLY PLEASED THAT A COLLECTOR FRIEND, DOROTHEA SCHLOSSER, COULD JOIN ME. DOROTHEA’S INTEREST IN EDUCATION IS PROFOUND AS IS HER DEDICATION AS PRESIDENT OF OLIVER SCHOLARS,  A VERY SPECIAL CHARITY THAT OPENS THE DOORS OF HIGHER EDUCATION AND SOCIAL SKILLS TO EXCEPTIONAL KIDS THAT TRANSFORMS THEIR SENSE OF SELF AND WHAT THEIR FUTURES CAN HOLD. http://www.theoliverprogram.org/.

ELLEN AND I TALKED UP A PROVERBIAL STORM AND SHE WAS KIND ENOUGH TO SEND ME MORE DETAILS ABOUT HER RESEARCH AND THE MANY SUBJECTS WE DISCUSSED. HAPPILY, ELLEN  HAS CONTRIBUTED AN ARTICLE ON ONE OF HER RESEARCH PROJECTS AT THE ARTS AND MIND LAB TO THE LRFA BLOG.

The Arts and Mind Lab explores the psychology of the arts — visual arts, theater, literature, and music. We have studied the kind of learning that occurs when children and adolescents study the arts, the extent to which arts learning spills over and transfers to other domains, the effects of music training on brain development, effects of art-making on mood and emotion regulation, aesthetic preferences and aesthetic judgments, the musical skills of mathematicians, and children and adults’ understandings about the arts.

Before I became a psychologist, I studied English literature at Harvard and painting at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. All of my research has been devoted to the study of the arts.

My goal is to help to bring the study of the arts into the mainstream of psychological research.

Here is a link to the current research in process now in our lab

http://www.ellenwinner.com/research.html

Our research on how people perceive and judge abstract expressionist paintings:

“My four-year-old could have painted that,” is an oft-heard disparaging remark in a museum displaying modern art. In our lab, we wanted to find out whether people, especially people with no art background, can distinguish paintings by abstract artists from superficially similar paintings by children, chimps, monkeys, and elephants. We took away 2 obvious cues: the signatures; and the kind of materials used. To make sure people couldn’t tell whether a painting was oil on canvas or poster paint on cheap paper, we showed the paintings on a computer screen.

Here’s what we did. We showed two groups of people (art students at an art college; non-art students who were psychology majors) 30 pairs of images. Each pair consisted of a great painting by a famous abstract expressionist (see list below), and a superficially similar (and I must confess, very beautiful and charming) painting by either a child or an animal (monkey, gorilla, chimpanzee, or elephant). Most works by children came from online databases of preschool artworks (e.g., Artsonia LLC, 2009; The Natural Child Project, 2009); most works by nonhumans came from online databases of zoo galleries (e.g., Asian Elephant Art & Conservation Project, 2009Jungle Friends Primate Sanctuary, 2009)

Charles Seliger: Forest Echoes, 1961

Clyfford Still: 1945-R, 1945

Cy Twombly: Nine Discourses on Commodus Part V, 1963

Elaine de Kooning: On the Way to San Remo, 1967

Franz Kline: Untitled, 1958

Gillian Ayres: Distillation, 1957

Hans Hofmann: Astral Nebula, 1961

Hans Hofmann: Fiat Lux, 1963

Hans Hofmann: Laburnum, 1954

Hans Hofmann: The Climb, 1960

Helen Frankenthaler: Before the Caves, 1958

Hélène Hurot: D’après Sam Francis, 2007

James Brooks: Boon, 1957

Joan Mitchell: Hemlock, 1956

Joan Mitchell: Pastel, 1990

Joan Mitchell: Untitled, 1967

Karel Appel: Untitled, 1960

Kenzo Okada: Points No.19, 1954

Mark Rothko: Number 18, 1948

Mark Rothko: Untitled, 1948

Mark Tobey: New World Stage, circa. 1960

Morris Louis: Addition V, 1959

Philip Guston: For M, 1955

Ralph Rosenborg Autumn Landscape, 1974

Ralph Rosenborg: Untitled (Floral Study), 1976

Sam Feinstein: Untitled

Sam Francis: Tokyo Blue, 1961

Sam Francis: Untitled

Sam Francis: Untitled, 1989

Theodoros Stamos: Documenta II, 1959

 

We matched each artist work to a child or animal work as closely as we could in terms of color, line quality, and medium).

Here is an example:

Which is the artist and which is the child?

Which is the artist and which is the child?

If you are reading this blog, you probably know a lot about art, so you can probably tell which one is by the artist and which one is by the child. But if not, here is the answer (go to next slide)

The one on the left is by 4-year-old Jack Pezanosky (reprinted by permission of the parents of Jack Pezanosky). The one on the right panel is Laburnum, by Hans Hoffman (reprinted by permission of the Renate Hoffman and Maria Hoffman Trust and the Artists Rights Society).

We asked people 2 questions, in this order:

  • Which painting do you like better? Why?
  • Which painting do you think is the better work of art. Why?

IN THE NEXT LRFA BLOG, WE WILL CONTINUE THE FINDINGS AND RESEARCH THAT THE ARTS AND MIND LAB DOCUMENTED IN THIS STUDY.  ELLEN IS VERY ENTHUSIASTIC ABOUT HER WORK AND DEDICATED TO THE RESEARCH PROGRAM. IF YOU HAVE QUESTIONS OR COMMENTS ON THIS SUBJECT, FIRE AWAY!

MANY THANKS, TO ELLEN WINNER, AND TO ALL OF YOU FOR YOUR SUPPORT.