Friday, December 23, 2011

Art, Authenticity, and Rationality

Most people can't recognize the difference between a genuine and fake painting, yet Oxford University scientists have discovered that people find more pleasure in viewing a work of art when they are told they are looking at an original painting rather than a fake. More from Science Daily:
Professor Martin Kemp, Emeritus Professor of the History of Art at Oxford University, said: "Our findings support what art historians, critics and the general public have long believed -- that it is always better to think we are seeing the genuine article. Our study shows that the way we view art is not rational, that even when we cannot distinguish between two works, the knowledge that one was painted by a renowned artist makes us respond to it very differently. The fact that people travel to galleries around the world to see an original painting suggests that this conclusion is reasonable."

When a participant was told that a work was genuine, it raised activity in the part of the brain that deals with rewarding events, such as tasting pleasant food or winning a gamble. Being told a work is not by the master triggered a complex set of responses in areas of the brain involved in planning new strategies. Participants reported that when viewing a supposed fake, they tried to work out why the experts regarded it not to be genuine.

Andrew Parker, Professor of Physiology at Oxford University and the study's senior author, said: "Our findings support the idea that when we make aesthetic judgements, we are subject to a variety of influences. Not all of these are immediately articulated. Indeed, some may be inaccessible to direct introspection but their presence might be revealed by brain imaging. It suggests that different regions of the brain interact together when a complex judgment is formed, rather than there being a single area of the brain that deals with aesthetic judgements."

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