Seeing the Mind Behind The Art: the psychology of perception
ELLEN WINNER, DEPARTMENT HEAD AND CHAIR OF PSYCHOLOGY AT BOSTON UNIVERSITY, FOUNDED THE ARTS AND MIND LAB TO EXPLORE PSYCHOLOGY AS IT RELATES TO THE ARTS- NOT ONLY VISUAL BUT ALSO THEATER, LITERATURE AND MUSIC – AND TO BRING THE STUDY OF CREATIVE ENDEAVORS INTO THE MAINSTREAM OF PSYCHOLOGICAL RESEARCH. Seeing The Mind Behind the Art PROVIDES CONCRETE DOCUMENTATION THAT PEOPLE OF VARYING DEGREES OF AESTHETIC SOPHISTICATION ARE ABLE TO DISTINGUISH UNLABELED PAINTINGS BY ABSTRACT ARTISTS FROM SUPERFICIALLY SIMILAR PAINTINGS BY CHILDREN, CHIMPS AND ELEPHANTS. EVEN INDIVIDUALS WITH NO ARTS TRAINING RECOGNIZE THE GREATER TALENT AND CREATIVE INTELLIGENCE EVIDENT IN THE ARTISTS’ COMPOSITIONS.
IN THREE FOLLOW UP STUDIES, NOW UNDER REVIEW, RESEARCH CONFIRMS AND EXTENDS THIS FINDING. EVEN YOUNG CHILDREN ARE ABLE TO MAKE THIS DISTINCTION. AS ELLEN STATES: “LABELS DO NOT OVERRIDE OUR PERCEPTION OF THE QUALITY OF THE WORK.”
…And what kinds of reasons do people give for choosing the works by the artists?
They say something very interesting. They talk about the greater mental work that went into the compositions by artists compared to the works by children and animals. They say that the artist works show more thinking, more planning, more intentionality. They infer a greater mind behind the artists’ works. That is why we called our paper “Seeing the Mind Behind the Art.”
In three follow-up studies, now under review, we confirm and extend this finding, including when the images are presented one by one rather than in pairs, and when people are just asked to decide for each image whether it was by a famous artist or a child or animal.
We have even found that young children can make this discrimination, and we have found that people look longer at the works by artists, and show greater pupil dilation when looking at the artist images.
So we conclude:
You, standing in the museum making disparaging comments, may think that a child could have created a work indistinguishable from the abstract expressionist painting you are looking at. But you are wrong. You actually see more than you know that you see in abstract art. You can tell if a painting is by a famous artist vs. by a child or animal. AND you will like the works by the artists better and you will judge these works to be better art.
And so, in reality, your kid could NOT have done that!
OTHER RESEARCH PROJECTS UNDER INVESTIGATION BY THE ARTS AND MIND LAB INCLUDE:
How beliefs about the artist shape our evaluation of the art work.
We are examining how beliefs about the artist’s moral character, originality, and mental state shape (perhaps unconsciously) how children and adults respond to works of art. Thus far we are examining this question with respect to painting and film.
How hard is it to detect forgery in paintings?
We are examining how skilled lay adults are at detecting forgeries. Despite the prevalence of undetected forgery in the art world, we are finding that people are better than chance at telling which painting is the forgery and which is the original when the two are paired.
Attitudes about art.
Must great works of art be beautiful? Or are other criteria more important? We are exploring lay attitudes about what makes art great and exploring possible connections between attitudes about art and personality characteristics and political and social values.
I LOOK FORWARD TO SHARING THESE STUDIES WITH YOU. ELLEN, THANKS SO MUCH FOR YOUR CONTRIBUTION.
IN THE NEXT LRFA BLOG, I HAVE THE PLEASURE OF INTRODUCING JASON YSENBURG, SENIOR DIRECTOR AT GAGOSIAN GALLERY. JASON HAS BEEN A RESPECTED PRESENCE IN THE ART WORLD FOR SOME TIME, A CO-DIRECTOR OF SONNABEND GALLERY FOUNDED BY THE LEGENDARY ILEANA SONNABEND, WITH HER SON, ANTONIO HOMEM. WHEN SONNABEND CLOSED THIS YEAR, JASON JOINED GAGOSIAN GALLERY WHERE HE IS BASED PRIMARILY AT THE 24th STREET SPACE IN NEW YORK BUT ALSO WILL ACT IN A CURATORIAL CAPACITY AT GAGOSIAN’S MANY LOCATIONS.
LAST YEAR, JASON WAS INVITED TO CURATE AN EXHIBITION FROM THE WORKS IN THE ILLUSTRIOUS VANMOERKERKE COLLECTION, LOCATED IN OOSTENDE, BELGIUM, ONE OF THE FINEST PRIVATE COLLECTIONS OF CONTEMPORARY ARTISTS WORKING IN PAINTING, SCULPTURE, PHOTOGRAPHY AND VIDEO TODAY.
PLEASE JOIN US IN READING AND COMMENTING ON JASON YSENBURG’S EXHIBITION: THINGS I CANNOT LIVE WITHOUT.