IN THE ARTS SECTION OF THE NEW YORK TIMES ON JULY 8, TOM MASHBERG CONTRIBUTED AN ARTICLE ENTITLED ” DO YOU LIKE ‘DOGS PLAYING POKER’? SCIENCE WOULD LIKE TO KNOW WHY”. ELLEN WINNER, Ph.D., A PSYCHOLOGIST AT BOSTON COLLEGE WAS FEATURED BASED ON HER RECENT RESEARCH AND ARTICLE PUBLISHED WITH TWO COLLEAGUES TO THE INTERNATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF EMPIRICAL AESTHETICS IN ANTICIPATION OF A CONVENTION ON ART AND PSYCHOLOGY IN AUGUST 2018.
ELLEN HAS DEDICATED HER LIFE’S RESEARCH TO THIS SUBJECT AND HER CONTRIBUTION TO OUR UNDERSTANDING OF PERCEPTION AND PSYCHOLOGY IN THE ARTS IS LEGENDARY. HER PUBLICATIONS INCLUDE:
THE TIMES WRITES:
The organization whose members initiated much of this research, the Society for the Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity and the Arts, is a unit of the American Psychological Association that was established in 1945. Its membership has grown consistently over the years and stands at about 500.
A second organization that promotes similar research, the International Association of Empirical Aesthetics, , includes not only psychologists but philosophers, sociologists and neuroscientists. Each group publishes a research journal and both will hold conventions in August.
Ms. Winner’s team at Boston College published its study, “Essentialist Beliefs in Aesthetic Judgments of Duplicate Artworks,” in the society’s journal in June. The research was designed to explore why people come to devalue pieces they had once revered after finding out that the works were not actually created by the artist.
Philosophers have long been interested in the puzzle of forgery, and consistent with philosophers’ assumptions, laypeople devalue artworks that they believe to have been forged. We found that the second of two identical artworks was rated lower on all evaluative dimensions when made by a forger as opposed to a famous artist, replicating previous results. The question we explored here was why forgeries are devalued.
Identical forgeries constitute a special case of the more general phenomenon of duplication (Currie, 1985), an observation that highlights the many factors present in real cases of forgery. A forged painting previously thought to be by a famous artist is not just a duplicate but a deception and thus the product of an immoral action. Moreover, a forged painting is worth considerably less money than an original, introduces duplication in a medium that normally involves one-of-a-kind objects, and loses its historical specialness by eliminating its previously thought association with a great artist. Any of these factors could plausibly account for its perceived deficiency.
Here we explore the effect of duplication on aesthetic judgments while manipulating (a) the moral character of the act of duplication, (b) the medium of the artworks (painting vs. photography), and (c) the causal-historical specialness acquired by being made by a famous artist. To capture the conditions of the philosophical puzzle without the response demand created by presenting the same artwork first as an original and later as a forgery, we showed participants two identical images presented simultaneously and varied their creators.
Summary, Part II
As expected, forgeries were rated worse on all dimensions. But again, we can’t say whether it was because they’re fraudulent, worth less money, or just not the one the artist made. So the key question was whether people would disfavor sanctioned assistant copies, which are essentially forgeries with the monetary loss and intent to deceive stripped out.
Although people thought the artist’s copy and the assistant’s copy were equally beautiful, they disfavored the assistant’s copy on all of the historical dimensions. What’s surprising about this result is that it’s not rational: why should the second in a series of ten be more influential, creative, or original just because it was made by the artist rather than the sanctioned assistant? Both were conceived by same person (the artist), were made at same time in history, had the artist’s stamp on it, and were said to be worth the same amount of money.
This suggests that when we strip away all of the problems with forgery that aren’t art-specific—their worthlessness, their fraudulence—people would still have a problem with them because they’re not made by the original artist. This is consistent with the irrational belief that artists imbue their works with some special essence when they make it. This makes it more original, more creative, and more influential even if it’s not more beautiful.
Remarkably, this irrational devaluation does not depend on physical contact: the results were the same regardless of how much people thought the artist came into contact with the copy
You might think that people disfavored the sanctioned copy because they actually thought this was not fully moral. To check for this, we also had people rate the immorality. But when we controlled for these ratings statistically, the copies by the assistant were still disfavored over the copies by the artist. So we cannot chalk up the disfavoring of assistant copies to anything to do with immorality.
IN OUR NEXT LRFA BLOG, ELLEN WILL SHARE THE CONCLUSIONS OF THIS STUDY. WE’LL NEVER LOOK AT A WORK OF ART AGAIN WITHOUT WONDERING ABOUT THE CREATIVE PROCESS AND OUR PERCEPTION OF IT.
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