Dada Against Context

posted: 02-17-10
Renaissance/Dada: L.H.O.O.Q.
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According to a new study, we like art better when it has not been interpreted for us -- and that goes for both representational styles and more "difficult" or conceptual work. Kenneth Bordens, a psychology professor of Indiana University - Purdue University Fort Wayne, split 172 students into two groups, neither of which had much formal art background before the experiment began. Members of the first group were simply asked to rate their response to a wide range of art (Renaissance, impressionist, outsider, dada) based on internal criteria; the second group was given a canned explanation of each work and nominal goals before being asked to evaluate it.

Armed with a received notion of what art "should" achieve, the second group liked concrete examples of it less; the first group, which had only its unmediated aesthetic impressions to fall back on, was generally more receptive. For both groups, dada works were less appreciated than representational Renaissance or impressionist paintings and sculpture.

That said, the eye and brain can still be trained, apparently. Professor Bordens also discovered that familiarity with an artistic style or conceptual vocabulary -- a self-created context -- generates a favorable response: “Duchamp’s Nude on a Staircase was rated as more closely matching one’s internal definition of art, and liked more, when presented after the other Dada works than before."


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