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Proceedings Paper

Preference for art: similarity, statistics, and selling price
Author(s): Daniel J. Graham; Jay D. Friedenberg; Cyrus H. McCandless; Daniel N. Rockmore
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Paper Abstract

Factors governing human preference for artwork have long been studied but there remain many holes in our understanding. Bearing in mind contextual factors (both the conditions under which the art is viewed, and the state of knowledge viewers have regarding art) that play some role in preference, we assess in this paper three questions. First, what is the relationship between perceived similarity and preference for different types of art? Second, are we naturally drawn to certain qualities-and perhaps to certain image statistics-in art? And third, do social and economic forces tend to select preferred stimuli, or are these forces governed by non-aesthetic factors such as age, rarity, or artist notoriety? To address the first question, we tested the notion that perceived similarity predicts preference for three classes of paintings: landscape, portrait/still-life, and abstract works. We find that preference is significantly correlated with (a) the first principal component of similarity in abstract works; and (b) the second principal component for landscapes. However, portrait/still-life images did not show a significant correlation between similarity and preference, perhaps due to effects related to face perception. The preference data were then compared to a wide variety of image statistics relevant to early visual system coding. For landscapes and abstract works, nonlinear spatial and intensity statistics relevant to visual processing explained surprisingly large portions of the variance of preference. For abstract works, a quarter of the variance of preference rankings could be explained by a statistic gauging pixel sparseness. For landscape paintings, spatial frequency amplitude spectrum statistics explained one fifth of the variance of preference data. Consistent with results for similarity, image statistics for portrait/still-life works did not correlate significantly with preference. Finally, we addressed the role of value. If there are shared "rules" of preference, one might expect "free markets" to value art in proportion to its aesthetic appeal, at least to some extent. To assess the role of value, a further test of preference was performed on a separate set of paintings recently sold at auction. Results showed that the selling price of these works showed no correlation with preference, while basic statistics were significantly correlated with preference. We conclude that selling price, which could be seen as a proxy for a painting's "value," is not predictive of preference, while shared preferences may to some extent be predictable based on image statistics. We also suggest that contextual and semantic factors play an important role in preference given that image content appears to lead to greater divergence between similarity and preference ratings for representational works, and especially for artwork that prominently depicts faces. The present paper paves the way for a more complete understanding of the relationship between shared human preferences and image statistical regularities, and it outlines the basic geometry of perceptual spaces for artwork.

Paper Details

Date Published: 18 February 2010
PDF: 10 pages
Proc. SPIE 7527, Human Vision and Electronic Imaging XV, 75271A (18 February 2010); doi: 10.1117/12.842398
Show Author Affiliations
Daniel J. Graham, Dartmouth College (United States)
Jay D. Friedenberg, Manhattan College (United States)
Cyrus H. McCandless, Merchant Mechanics, Inc. (United States)
Daniel N. Rockmore, Dartmouth College (United States)


Published in SPIE Proceedings Vol. 7527:
Human Vision and Electronic Imaging XV
Bernice E. Rogowitz; Thrasyvoulos N. Pappas, Editor(s)

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