But Is It really Art? The Classification of Images as “Art”/“Not Art” and Correlation with Appraisal and Viewer Interpersonal Differences

Matthew Pelowski, Gernot Gerger, Yasmine Chetouani, Patrick Markey, Helmut Leder

When an individual participates in empirical studies involving the visual arts, they most often are presented with a stream of images, shown on a computer, depicting reproductions of artworks by respected artists but which are often not known to the viewer. While art can of course be shown in presentia actuale—e.g., in the museum—this laboratory paradigm has become our go-to basis for assessing interaction, and, often in conjunction with some means of rating, for assessing evaluative, emotional, cognitive, and even neurophysiological response. However, the question is rarely asked: Do participants actually believe that every image that they are viewing is indeed “Art”? Relatedly, how does this evaluation relate to aesthetic appreciation, and do the answers to these questions vary in accordance with different strategies and interpersonal differences? In this paper, we consider the spontaneous classification of digital reproductions as art or not art. Participants viewed a range of image types—Abstract, Hyperrealistic, Poorly Executed paintings, Readymade sculptures, as well as Renaissance and Baroque paintings. They classified these as “art” or “not art” using both binary and analog scales, and also assessed for liking. Almost universally, individuals did not find all items within a class to be “art,” nor did all participants agree on the arthood status for any one item. Art classification in turn showed a significant positive correlation with liking. Whether an object was classified as art moreover correlated with specific personality variables, tastes, and decision strategies. The impact of these findings is discussed for selection/assessment of participants and for better understanding the basis of findings in past and future empirical art research.

Department of Cognition, Emotion, and Methods in Psychology
Frontiers in Psychology
Publication date
Peer reviewed
Austrian Fields of Science 2012
501001 General psychology, 501011 Cognitive psychology
Portal url