Toggle Main Menu Toggle Search

Open Access padlockePrints

Fechner- the art of omission?

Lookup NU author(s): Dr George Erdos, Dr Joan Harvey


Full text for this publication is not currently held within this repository. Alternative links are provided below where available.


The first serious empirical study of reactions to artworks was performed by Fechner in 1871, when two versions of Holbein’s (1497–1543) painting Madonna with Burgomaster Meyer were exhibited at the Dresden Museum. When these were not successful due to too few participants, Fechner later carried out empirical studies designed to determine which types of form, proportions, and colours were considered the most beautiful or pleasant (Carreras, 1998). The principle involved still remains the same, that an audience might prefer a different version of a work of art to the original, although the experimental techniques to study this aspect of aesthetics have since been refined. Erdos et al. (2008) showed that some colour variations from the original were preferred to it by significant numbers of respondents when viewing landscapes and that there were cross-cultural differences for the three pictures used, but the findings were not consistent in the blue or red or original preference across the paintings or by gender. This paper assesses responses to artworks where some aspect has been changed, added or omitted compared to the original, and examines the extent to which these responses differ cross-culturally and by gender. The methods chosen is to obtain ratings of paintings using pair-wise comparisons with the semantic differential to establish the preferences and whether the changes that have an impact on the observer. Three paintings by Holbein the younger were chosen: A lady with a Squirrel and a Starling (abt 1526-28), The Virgin and Child with the family of Burgomeister Meyer (1528) and LAIS:CORINTHIACA (1526). In each case, the picture was either switched left hand to right hand, or a colour was changed, or something was added or removed. The resulting pictures were presented in pairs for the semantic differential pair-wise comparisons and each was rated according to composition, liking etc. In addition, personality variables and demographic information of the respondents were collected in Great Britain and the Czech Republic. The findings show that people hold strong preferences, despite the fact that none know the paintings, so have no way of knowing which of the versions is the right one. We discuss the suitability of the various methodologies with regard to the strength and weakness of the “aesthetics from below” and comment on the adequacy of the description of a masterpiece as a work of art in which ‘all elements are unmodifiable’.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Erdos G, Harvey J, Kolman L

Publication type: Conference Proceedings (inc. Abstract)

Publication status: Published

Conference Name: 21st Biennial Congress of the International Association of Empirical Aesthetics

Year of Conference: 2010