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talking about art can alter our appreciation of it

From:     links
Category: Art
Date:     16 September 2009
Time:     05:14 PM


2. Talking about art can alter our appreciation of it

A few months back I was challenged by a friend to explain why I think The
Wire is the best TV series ever. Pointing to its critical acclaim wouldn't
do - I needed to articulate my own reasons. I soon realised that translating
my appreciation into words wasn't a straightforward task. What's more, a new
study suggests that any reasons I came up with could well have fed back and
influenced my subsequent experience of the programme.

The new research was conducted in relation to paintings, where the challenge
of verbalising one's preferences is even trickier than for a TV show. Ayumi
Yamada asked half of 129 students to either verbalise their reasons for
liking two paintings - one abstract, one representational (Piet Mondrian's
Woods near Oele and his New York City, respectively) - or to verbalise their
reasons for not liking the paintings. The remaining participants acted as
controls and just viewed the paintings without saying anything. Afterwards,
all the participants had to say which was their favoured painting.

Representational paintings are realistic, with content that can be easily
talked about. Abstract art, by contrast, is less grounded in reality and
more tricky to talk about.

The results showed that verbalising their responses to the paintings
appeared to distort the participants' subsequent preferences. Those
participants in the verbalisation condition who'd been challenged to say why
they liked the paintings were subsequently biased towards choosing the
representational painting as their favourite. By contrast, participants in
the verbalisation condition who'd been challenged to articulate their
reasons for disliking the paintings were subsequently biased towards
choosing the abstract painting as their favourite.

What was going on? Yamada thinks that the apparent ease with which we can
verbalise our feelings affects our later judgements. Because participants
found it easier to talk about why they liked the representational painting
compared with the abstract one, this biased them in favour of the
representational painting. Similarly, participants who had to talk about
their dislike for the art, found this easier for the representational
painting, which subsequently biased them against it.

The finding is consistent with past research showing that attempting to
verbalise our feelings can distort our later choices. For example, a prior
study showed that participants who attempted to explain their preferences
for different jams subsequently showed less agreement with expert ratings
than did control participants.

"When lacking access to the exact determinants of their preferences, people
with abundant vocabulary [such as when judging representational art] are
more likely to generate plausible, yet specious, reasons and still be
prevented from appreciating art to its fullest," Yamada said.

Yamada, A. (2009). Appreciating art verbally: Verbalization can make a work
of art be both undeservedly loved and unjustly maligned. Journal of
Experimental Social Psychology, 45 (5), 1140-1143

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Further reading: It's content first, style later, when it comes to people's
perception of art:
Article on art and personality in The Psychologist magazine:

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