The psychology of the arts with Professor Ellen Winner
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
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, 2009; Jungle 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:
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.