Tuesday, March 8, 2011

De Kooning versus Elephant

Take a look at the two images in this post. Which do you prefer? Which do you think is by a professional artist? (See the answer here.) For a paper in press at Psychological Science, Angelina Hawley-Dolan and Ellen Winner of Boston College collected 72 undergrads, 32 of which were studio-art majors, and showed them 30 paintings by abstract expressionists. Each painting was paired with a painting by a child, a monkey, a chimpanzee, a gorilla, or an elephant. The images were matched on superficial attributes such as color, line quality, and brushstroke, and subjects were asked which piece they personally liked more, and which they thought was a better work of art.

While class discussion might go to griping about abstract expressionists doing tenure sit-ins for their whole lives, this study reminds me that in the larger culture--even the larger culture of academia--as staid a thing as abstract painting can still be seen as threatening, childish, or a form of monkeying around.

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