Pigeons Trained to Find Good Art

| 7/13/2009 5:21:40 PM

Pigeon PaintingGreat art is subjective. Bad art, on the other hand, can be identified by a pigeon. According to the New Scientist, psychologist Shigeru Watanabe taught art appreciation to several birds by rewarding them with food when they correctly discerned good art from bad. To identify the quality of the art work, Watanabe used children’s paintings that had been graded in a class and by a panel of adults. According to Watanabe, “The experiments demonstrated the ability of discrimination.” He added, however, that it did not show “the ability to enjoy painting.”

The pigeons may be smart, but the research “conflates so many different aspects of the human response to art,” Jessica Palmer writes for Biophemera. Palmer questions, “What is the relation between beauty in art and the quality of the art? Specifically, can ‘good’ art be ugly? Can beautiful art be ‘bad’? Can ugly art, paradoxically enough, be beautiful?” The pigeons haven’t been able to account for these subjective art questions. So, at least for now, art critics won’t be closing up shop just yet.

Sources: New Scientist, Biophemera

Image by Ricardo Martins, licensed under Creative Commons.

Kit Kellison
9/15/2009 5:44:24 PM

This is an example of extrapolating meaning from a bogus test. If these were typical American adults grading the artwork, I doubt they are well-educated in composition or color and are therefore merely judging how representational the artwork is. This also reminds me how shamefully undereducated children are in visual art at the public school level. It is not difficult to teach children the most important principles of design, yet it never happens.

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