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Why Your Child Couldn't Make Abstract Art of Museum Quality

Wednesday 09th March 2011

I was pleased to read an article in ARTINFO on Monday about a study that aimed to argue against the "my child could do that" statement that is often made in front of works of abstract art. The idea that anyone can make an abstract artwork was put to the test, with results revealing that it does take talent and some level of skill to make a great abstract work of art.
 
The study was performed by Boston College's Angelina Hawley-Dolan and Ellen Winner, and involved 72 undergraduate students, of which 32 were studying studio art. The results of the study were recently published in the journal, Psychology Science. 
 
The experiment saw the students exposed to 30 paintings by famous Abstract Expressionists, which were shown along side paintings done by either a child, a monkey, an elephant or a gorilla. The works were paired based on similarities in colour and form, offering the students a basis for comparison. 
 
Ten of the pairs were unlabeled, ten were incorrectly labeled and ten were correctly labeled to also see whether external information would sway how the students reacted in the experiment. The students were asked which painting from each pair they preferred, and to guess which works belonged to the Abstract Expressionists, and which belonged to the children and animals. 
 
The results of the experiment were that, for the majority, the students were able to comfortably decide which paintings were which, and that assertions of quality remained with the works of the Abstract Expressionists. It was also comforting to hear that even the range of labeling, or lack of it, did not sway the results of the experiment. 
 
ARTINFO also referenced some further comments from Hawley-Dolan which explained that "when study participants were asked to explain why they picked the works that they chose as their favorites, they made more references to the painter's intentions when they were speaking about works that were actually by professional artists than when they were describing the child or animal artworks — regardless of labeling condition. In other words, somehow, viewers sensed which works were by mature humans."
 
So, let's hope we hear a bit less of "my child could do that" and that we can foster a greater appreciation of abstract art, and the artists who pioneered abstract modes of creation throughout the 20th century. 
 

Posted on March 09th 2011 on 08:16pm

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