August 2016
Volume 16, Issue 12
Open Access
Vision Sciences Society Annual Meeting Abstract  |   September 2016
On the mystery of fractals in Arts – why are Pollock's drip paintings valued so highly?
Author Affiliations
  • Johannes Zanker
    Department of Psychology, Royal Holloway, University of London, England
  • Jade Jackson
    Department of Cognitive Science, Macquarie University, Australia
  • Jasmina Stevanov
    Psychologisches Institut, Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz, Germany
Journal of Vision September 2016, Vol.16, 794. doi:10.1167/16.12.794
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      Johannes Zanker, Jade Jackson, Jasmina Stevanov; On the mystery of fractals in Arts – why are Pollock's drip paintings valued so highly?. Journal of Vision 2016;16(12):794. doi: 10.1167/16.12.794.

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      © ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)

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Measurement of the physical complexity of Jackson Pollock's paintings (fractal dimension 'D'), suggested a systematic increase of drip painting complexity during the development of his iconic style (Taylor, 2002). These findings exemplify novel approaches in experimental aesthetics to close the gap between physical descriptions of arts and objective perceptual measures of properties discussed as tokens of perceived beauty (Berlyne 1971), such as complexity, regularity, symmetry, or liking. We have developed a quantitative method to assess individual preference for complexity and liking in a set of patterns or paintings, by rank-ordering multiple combinations of smaller stimulus sub-sets (ECVP 2015, Perception 44-S1). We cropped 4 square regions at different locations from 10 Pollock paintings with known D (1943-1952), to generate 16 quasi-random samples of 5 crops that participants ranked by stepwise elimination of the preferred crop in the given set (assigned to them a 1-5 score). The rank for a given painting, calculated as average score of its crops (8 presentations each), is regarded as a measure of its perceived complexity/liking relative to the other paintings in the set. We observed some variation for individual observers, but some clear preference profiles for the 10 paintings: whereas perceived complexity appears to correlate well with liking, there is no systematic relationship between perceived complexity and fractal dimension, D. Could our observers' "blindness" to physical complexity (D) be a result of colour which strongly affects the aesthetic experience of the paintings but is neglected in the conventional estimations of D? In a second experiment, we used the same method with the same stimulus set converted into (normalised) grey-scale images – leading to very similar results. There is no substantial relationship between the fractal dimension of Pollock paintings and their perceived complexity and liking. Observers show greater preference to what they perceive as more complex!

Meeting abstract presented at VSS 2016


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