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  • Advances in Measuring Artistic Judgment Aptitude
  • Nikolaus Bezruczko and Ambra Borgognoni Vimercati

Early in the 20th century, American educators and psychologists began developing psychometric tests to measure artistic judgment aptitude [1,2]. Had they been successful, the accrued social benefits today could arguably reach from occupations and professions as simple as gardening to those as technically complex as plastic surgery and computer chip design. Consequently, it is surprising that artistic judgment aptitude today, unlike all other aptitudes important to advanced Western societies, still does not have an objective or reliable method of identification.

As artists well know, the dominant method of identifying aptitude or talent in contemporary art evaluation is based on fallible expert judgments and intuitive aesthetic criteria that are informally applied by critics, galleries and buyers. This "system," however, is not easily implemented in areas outside professional art, such as career counseling or aptitude evaluation, which demand more rigorous methods. While sometimes disconcerting to artists, this emphasis on objective methods is strongly supported by social and economic values placed upon on equity, cost and efficiency.

The early enthusiasm for artistic judgment testing was followed in the 1920s and 1930s by several widely available commercial tests [3-5], but without exception all failed, mainly because, first, their constructs were simplistic and, second, they were unable to separate artistic judgments from cultural context, education or socioeconomic status. Commercial interest persisted for decades, but the problems proved intractable, and by the 1960s artistic judgment testing was abandoned.

Fortunately, the immense social benefits from encouraging persons with valid aptitude to enter visual arts-related careers did not diminish. Finally, almost a century after the first artistic judgment tests were introduced, cumulative empirical advances have led to Visual Designs Tests (VDT) [6] capable of fulfilling their long-sought goal. Inspired by contemporary research in empirical aesthetics [7,8], information theory [9] and cognitive psychology [10], VDT research confirms that humans fundamentally differ in perceptual

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Fig. 1.

Ambra Borgognoni Vimercati, Homage to Miro, Nos. 1-4, acrylics on canvas, 65 × 50 cm, 2000. Post-Impressionist paintings derived from synthetic abstract images. These abstract images are based on a statistical algorithm that controls complexity and redundancy. Paintings on canvas embellish abstract properties with content, color and style.

© Ambra Borgognoni Vimercati. Photo © Paolo Callipari

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abilities. Not surprisingly, artists are innately more sensitive to visual stimulation, derive more meaning and satisfaction from visual expression and are more inclined to seek visual arts recognition than laypersons.

Several events contributed to this progress. First was an empirical discovery by psychologists [11-17] that professional artists and laypersons consistently differ in visual preference for complexity and redundancy in polygon shapes. Statisticians then developed simple algorithms to manipulate complexity and redundancy in random patterns [18,19] and eventually produced patterns that mimic minimalism [20]. Sophisticated measurement technologies replaced "weak" test scores with linear measures, and further empirical studies in diverse populations confirmed that synthetic art images (those governed by algorithm) reliably distinguish professional and layperson preferences [21-26]. These advances were recently adapted to figurative art [27-29]. Figure 1, for example, shows four synthetic abstract images based on a statistical algorithm. After studying proportional relations between complexity and redundancy in these images, artist Ambra Borgognoni Vimercati painted corresponding images embellished with content, color and style. In this example the artist's post-impressionist images show complexity progressing from low to high but show little variation in cohesion. In general, laypersons prefer more complexity in both abstract and figurative images than artists, who tend to prefer less complex, more coherent images. (VDT generalization to more complicated figurative art is important, because naive laypersons tend to question the artistic validity of minimal, nonrepresentational images.)

The importance of these developments for occupational and vocational counseling cannot be overstated. Objective image manipulation, for example, has virtually eliminated visual preference contamination by language, intelligence and personality and has greatly diminished cultural influence. Abstract and figurative studies together have opened a door that only a few years ago seemed impassable. Moreover, this capacity to objectively examine effects of image features on visual preference offers an unusual opportunity to artists and researchers to better understand meaning and...


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