Museum of Science, Boston

Art Evaluation

Can children distinguish paintings by professional artists from paintings by non-artists?

Previous research has found that adults with no expertise in visual arts prefer paintings made by abstract expressionist masters over paintings by children or nonhumans, and judge them as “better” works of art. Do children also recognize and prefer artwork made by professional abstract artists? If children are told that an artist made the image, does that affect their preferences?

In this study, children are presented with pairs of paintings on a computer screen: one made by a professional artist and the other by a child, monkey, or elephant. We ask children, “Which image do you like more? Why?” and “Which image is the better work of art? Why?” The first pairs of images appear with no labels, but later pairs are shown with labels stating which painting was made by an artist, and which was made by a non-artist. Sometimes we label the pictures correctly, and sometimes we label them incorrectly. We want to know how the labels might affect children’s responses to the images.

We predict that older children, ages 8-14 years, will be influenced by the labels because they may be aware of the status that the labels suggest. In contrast, we predict that younger children, ages 4-5 years, may be less influenced by the labels.

This study may help us better understand how children analyze abstract artwork, what kind of abstract art they prefer, and what mediates their judgment making.

Learn about other research related to Conceptualizing Music and Art.

This research is conducted by the Art & Mind Laboratory at Boston College

Try it at the Museum

Evaluating Art at the Experiment Station

Frequently at the Discovery Center’s Experiment Station, the day's experiment involves creating items with markers or paint (i.e. capillary action butterflies, secret messages).

Place two of the completed objects from the Experiment Station side-by-side, and tell your child that one was made by a volunteer and the other was made by an artist.

Does your child think the "artist's" creation is more, less, or equally artistic as the “volunteer’s”? What reasons do they give? Do they have other reasons for preferring one object over the other?

Try it at Home

What makes it art?

Look through some images of classic works of art (you can visit a local gallery, or search for “art images” online), and ask your child which ones he or she likes the best. Do these works of art have anything in common? Can you tell what aspects of artwork your child likes?

Check out some images of famous abstract paintings. How would you know that a painting was made by a professional artist and not by a monkey or elephant with a paintbrush? Would you be able to tell if the picture wasn’t labeled?