“my child could do that” – art psychologist Ellen Winner refutes that premise!
THE ARTS AND MIND LAB, BASED IN BOSTON, STUDIES THE PSYCHOLOGICAL COMPONENTS OF INVOLVEMENT IN THE ARTS AS WELL AS OTHER ASPECTS OF CONCEPTUAL DEVELOPMENT. IN ESTABLISHING THIS UNIQUE RESEARCH CENTER, DIRECTOR DR. ELLEN WINNER, PROFESSOR AND CHAIR OF PSYCHOLOGY AT BOSTON COLLEGE, HAS COMBINED HER EARLY PASSION TO BECOME AN ARTIST AND STUDY AT THE PRESTIGIOUS SCHOOL OF THE MUSEUM OF FINE ARTS IN BOSTON WITH HER ACCOMPLISHMENTS IN THE FIELD OF DEVELOPMENTAL PSYCHOLOGY. ONE OF ELLEN’S PRIMARY AREAS OF CONCENTRATION FOCUSES ON THE CREATIVE PROCESS IN THE VISUAL ARTS THAT INCLUDES INVESTIGATION OF WHAT BROAD THINKING DISPOSITIONS ARE ACQUIRED BY STUDYING THE ARTS, HOW STUDENTS MAKE SENSE OF THE ARTS AND THE ROLE OF THE ARTS IN THEIR LIVES. https://www2.bc.edu/~winner/lab.html
I AM FASCINATED BY RECENT DEVELOPMENTS AND ADVANCES IN NEUROSCIENCE AND COGNITIVE SCIENCE. WE NOW HAVE SUCH A RICH IN-DEPTH LANDSCAPE OF HOW OUR BRAINS AND OUR EMOTIONAL LIVES FUNCTION AND INTERACT. MANY SCHOLARS IN AESTHETICS AGREE THAT THE “COGNITIVE REVOLUTION” HAS GREAT CONSEQUENCES FOR OUR UNDERSTANDING OF THE CREATION, INTERPRETATION AND APPRECIATION OF ARTWORKS. NEW STUDIES ENLIGHTEN US ON THE WORKINGS OF THE MIND, PERCEPTION, AND THE EMOTIONAL IMPACT THAT THE INVESTIGATION OF ART AND AESTHETICS PROVIDES. THUS, IT IS A UNIQUE PRIVILEGE TO POST ELLEN’S COMPELLING ARTICLE ON OUR RESPONSE TO ART PRODUCED BY EITHER MASTERS OF PAINTINGS OR BY CHILDREN OR ANIMALS.
Here is the striking finding:
If people could not tell the difference, they should choose the artist images about 50% of the time (since there are only two choices for each item).
However, this is not what happened. Both art students and non-art students chose the artist images significantly more than chance in response to both questions.
So you don’t have to have any specialized arts knowledge to prefer the images by the artists and to recognize these are the better works in the pairs. And the fact that people value the artist works more tells us that they can tell the difference between the works by the artists and those by the outsider artists (children and animals).
But I haven’t told you the whole story. We actually made the task a bit more difficult. The first ten pairs people saw were presented unlabelled. Of course we never said that one of the images was by a famous artist and one by a child or animal. We just showed the images and asked our questions.
Then we tricked people. The next 20 pairs were labelled as “artist” and either “animal” or “child.” But in half the cases, we reversed the labels! The first pair below is what people saw in the correct label condition; the second pair below is what they saw in the reversed label condition. (No one saw the same painting in more than one labeling condition, but everyone saw the same 30 pairs of images.
What about judging how good the works were? For the art students, knowing whether it was by an artist or a child or animal made absolutely no difference. They judged the works by artists better and equally so in all three conditions, as you can see in by looking at the right hand side of this graph. All three bars are of equal height.
The story for non-art students was a little different. They were indeed influenced by the correct label. So they chose the Hans Hoffman more when it was labelled artist than when it was labelled child.
But they were not influenced by the wrong label! Look at the left side of the graph. Note that the gray bar for the non-art students is just as high as the white bar (the unlabelled condition). This means that when the Hoffman was labelled “child,” it had no influence on them. They still judged it better. The label could not override the perceived quality of the work.
IN OUR NEXT POSTING, ELLEN WILL DOCUMENT ADDITIONAL ASPECTS OF HER RESEARCH STUDY – THE REASONS PEOPLE GIVE FOR WHAT THEY CHOSE. EVERYONE INVOLVED IN THE ART WORLD, WHETHER A COLLECTOR, DEALER OR CURATOR, IS ALWAYS CONTEMPLATING THE HOW AND WHY PEOPLE THINK AND RESPOND TO VARIOUS WORKS OF ART – THANK YOU, ELLEN,FOR YOUR INVALUABLE INSIGHT INTO THIS PROCESS.
AND THANK YOU EVERYONE FOR READING AND FOR YOUR COMMENTS AND QUESTIONS!