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Aesthetic Judgement of Orientation in Modern Art

  1. George Mather
    1. School of Psychology, University of Sussex, Falmer, Brighton BN1 9QH, UK


When creating an artwork, the artist makes a decision regarding the orientation at which the work is to be hung based on their aesthetic judgement and the message conveyed by the piece. Is the impact or aesthetic appeal of a work diminished when it is hung at an incorrect orientation? To investigate this question, Experiment 1 asked whether naïve observers can appreciate the correct orientation (as defined by the artist) of 40 modern artworks, some of which are entirely abstract. Eighteen participants were shown 40 paintings in a series of trials. Each trial presented all four cardinal orientations on a computer screen, and the participant was asked to select the orientation that was most attractive or meaningful. Results showed that the correct orientation was selected in 48% of trials on average, significantly above the 25% chance level, but well below perfect performance. A second experiment investigated the extent to which the 40 paintings contained recognisable content, which may have mediated orientation judgements. Recognition rates varied from 0% for seven of the paintings to 100% for five paintings. Orientation judgements in Experiment 1 correlated significantly with “meaningful” content judgements in Experiment 2: 42% of the variance in orientation judgements in Experiment 1 was shared with recognition of meaningful content in Experiment 2. For the seven paintings in which no meaningful content at all was detected, 41% of the variance in orientation judgements was shared with variance in a physical measure of image content, Fourier amplitude spectrum slope. For some paintings, orientation judgements were quite consistent, despite a lack of meaningful content. The origin of these orientation judgements remains to be identified.

  • Received May 13, 2011.
  • Revision received December 16, 2011.

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This Article

  1. i-Perception vol. 3 no. 1 18-24
  1. Free via Creative Commons: CC
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