People like real art, even if it is stupid looking abstract art

A child couldn’t paint that – can people tell abstract art from a child’s or chimp’s work?
[Via Not Exactly Rocket Science]

If you wander through New York’s Museum of Modern Art, you’ll eventually come across Painting Number 2 by Franz Kline, a set of thick, unruly black lines on a white canvas. Elsewhere, you will find one of Mark Rothko’s many untitled works, consisting of various coloured rectangles. And in front of both paintings, you will inevitably find visitors saying, “A child could paint that.”

To which Angelina Hawley-Dolan and Ellen Winner replied: “Could they?”

The duo wanted to test the assertion that abstract expressionist art is devoid of talent – that it could be done by a mere child, or even an animal. With keyboards and enough time, monkeys could surely duplicate Shakespeare, but with a paintbrush and a few hours, could a monkey produce a Rothko?

To find out, Hawley-Dolan and Winner asked 32 art students and 40 psychology students to compare pairs of paintings. One piece of each pair was the work of a recognised artist, such as Kline, Rothko, Cy Twombly, Gillian Ayre, and more. The other came from the oeuvre of lesser-known painters, including preschool children, elephants, chimps, gorillas and monkeys. The paintings were …


Interesting work. Even non-art people liked the professional art than the amateur. There may be a reason that particular childish looking art made it into an art gallery – because people like it. Professionals that made unpleasing art, like many amateurs might, would not end up in a gallery.

What this shows is that the abstract art that gets selected for museums, etc. actually does have qualities that lots of people like. Those artists knew something.

4 thoughts on “People like real art, even if it is stupid looking abstract art

  1. A group of art students and psychology students judging paintings! And it is ordinary people claiming a 4 year old could do better. There is something wrong with this picture. (a pun on purpose!) Once again you have proved how much smarter and better “educated” people are next to the great unwashed.

    1. ??? It’s a small study that used what they had. If you want, suggest to them to get vagrants off the street. But how do you get from what I wrote – or what was in the study – to proving that educated people are better than the great unwashed?

  2. It’s all a question of taste.I can see what you are getting at but it’s the same as music,not everyone likes the same songs or singers.Thanks for a really interesting blog.

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