Aesthetic judgement of paintings hung wrong-way-up

It’s alleged that even the most prestigious art galleries sometimes hang artist’s work the wrong way up. But very little scientific research has addressed the issue of whether the public-at-large can correctly guess whether a modern art painting is the right way up or not.  Prompting George Mather, who is Professor of Vision Science, School of Psychology, University of Lincoln and Visiting Professor of Psychology, School of Psychology, University of Sussex, UK, to perform an experimental study to help find out.

Eighteen naïve participants (students) none of whom had any previous formal training in art, judged forty modern artworks in randomly presented orientations (0, 90, 180 or 270 degrees). The results are revealed in  “Aesthetic judgement of orientation in modern art” which is published in i-Perception, vol. 3, no. 1, 2012, pp. 18–24. The study found that participants’ judgement of the ‘correct’ –  i.e. the artist’s preferred orientation – depends to some extent on the perceived ‘Meaningfulness’ content of the artwork. So, for example, Fernand Leger’s Two Women with Still Life was correctly guessed  88.89% of the time. Whereas Kasimir Malevich’s – Suprematist Composition: Airplane Flying  scored a disappointing 0%.

Puzzlingly, however, some paintings, which appeared to have very little ‘meaningful’ content (e.g. Jackson Pollock’s One: Number 31) were fairly consistently orientated correctly. “The origin of these orientation judgements remains to be identified. “ says the professor.

The full list of paintings used in the study is here.

Note: The artwork above was created using the online Pollock Generator  at jacksonpollock.org.






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