Viewing art is an irrational process

April 6, 2014

So now there is research to confirm what many have always known – our reaction to art is irrational.  We really don’t know what we’re looking at and we want to believe that what we are seeing is 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.

Professor Martin Kemp, an Emeritus Professor of the History of Art, reflecting on results showing that the brain signals of the viewers couldn’t distinguish between genuine and fake artworks.


This raises all kinds of fascinating questions – like, does it matter if it’s ‘real’ or not if we get enjoyment from it? What is the power of the institution or the curator in determining how we view art? etc etc.  The same can be said of promises made in business or by consultants.  But perhaps more interestingly (for me) it raises questions about any rational only approach to understanding or meaning making.  If we discount the irrational, the emotional and the unconscious then there’s a swathe of intelligence extruded from the conversation…must do more thinking/musing on this.


Hat Tip Culture 24 – the paper will be published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience

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