Science, Art, Litt, Science based Art & Science Communication
A few days back, I sent a message to all the members of Sci-Art Lab asking them to participate in a research study titled "How scientists look at art" and help the scientists. I , myself, was a participant scientist in the study.
Now the results of the research project carried out by Bayer in conjunction with the University of Reading are out. You can see the full details here:
The main conclusions of the research are:
At the aggregated level of the artwork categories,
no significant difference was observed between Scientists
and the Control group.
At the level of the individual artworks, however, a number
of significant differences were observed. In the Well-known
Masterpieces category, Scientists showed a particular affinity
for the DalÍ artwork with one respondent making a
specific connection between Surrealism and science:
“Surrealism is one of the consequences of scientific thinking.”
A significant difference was also observed in the Still Life
category , where once again the Scientists preferred
the Surrealist Miró portrait. It should be said that reactions to the
Surrealist Magritte Potrait were very different,
showing the power of an individual artwork to transcend
In fact overall, for both the Scientists and the Science Degree
groups, Surrealism was the most preferred art movement,
compared to the Control group who favoured Realism
Significant differences were also observed in the Microscopy
category for both the most and least preferred image. Scientists
preferred the abstract
image to the figurative
image , perhaps responding to its
“particular beauty”. Surprisingly, in choosing the least preferred
image, the Scientists were less averse to the Cancer Cell image
which so alienated the Control. It is probably not surprising that
the highest proportion of significant differences were observed
in this category, since the Scientists would have a professional
take on the images, providing them with a different perspective
and, for example, making
We saw at the overall level that respondents most preferred
artworks in the “figurative” category and least
preferred those in the “abstract” category .
However although this preference was confirmed in the
categories of Still Life paintings, Sculpture, Landscapes,
and Well-known Masterpieces, there were counterexamples
where artworks in the “abstract” category were preferred in
the categories Portraits, Microscopy and Conceptual Student
Art. This was due to the outright winner effect. As we can see
winners in each category scored in the
range 28%-45%, strongly influencing or determining the overall
preference result. So in the Portraits and Microscopy categories,
the “abstract” winners had an average score of 35% (Malevich
and the Xylem), while in the Conceptual Student Art category
the Maria Iordanous piece was the overall winner with 45%.
Once more this shows the ability of a particular artwork to
transcend predictable preferences.
As with the overall analysis, data about preferences was too
dispersed for meaningful comparative analysis. However the
qualitative data suggests that respondents made judgements
along both the “analytical” and “affective” dimensions. On the
analytical axis, preferred artworks were seen as making sense
either in terms of the worldview or story they represented (as
for example in the Caracci portrait), while respondents reacted
strongly against artworks they felt they could not understand or
where the message was thought to be deliberately obscured.
On the affective axis, respondents looked for emotional
appeal, rejecting artworks which seemed “boring” or “bland”.
Most respondents wanted the emotion to be positive and
tended to reject negative images such as those in the Student
Conceptual Art category, although this was not always the case:
for example Simon Morgan’s
was admired as well
as rejected for its sinister political connotations. Responses
were often highly personal, connecting with the respondents’
moods and experiences. It is probably this feeling of emotional
connection which was behind the frequently-occurring
benchmark criterion of “I would/would not hang this in
Respondents also reacted strongly to whether the artworks
seemed beautiful or not. This seemed to be related to skill, with
simple or childish images seen as unattractive. This appeared to
be an overriding criterion.
The winning artworks had the winning combination, perceived
as both intellectually and emotionally meaningful, and beautiful
in some way.
The gender analysis shows a much higher incidence of
significant differences. If we focus on the differences involving
Scientists, we can see that for the
differences between Male and Female groups were observed at
both the aggregated level and the level of the individual artworks
in the categories of Well-known Masterpieces and Landscapes,
and at the level of the individual artwork for Conceptual
Differences between Female and Male Scientists
At the aggregated level, Female Scientists were more
likely to prefer “abstract” artworks in both the Well-known
Masterpieces and Landscape categories,
. This was borne out at the level of the individual
artworks, where Female Scientists were more likely to prefer
the “abstract” artworks .
In the Conceptual Student Art category, the Female
Scientists preferred the winning Iordanous artwork more
than their male counterparts, again showing that they were
more prepared to make the “abstract” choice .
Differences between Female Scientists and Female Control.
At the aggregated level, Female Scientists were more likely
than the Control to prefer “abstract” artworks in both the
Well-known Masterpieces and the Sculpture
At the level of individual artworks, Female Scientists were
more drawn towards the “abstract” examples in the Well-
known Masterpieces and Microscopy categories , for example showing a bias towards the “abstract”
Kandinsky while the Female Control group preferred the
Differences between Male Scientists and Male Control
At the level of individual artworks, Male Scientists were more
likely to prefer the figurative Well-known Masterpieces.
In the analysis of the
artworks, the trend
for women to be more receptive to the “abstract artworks”
continues. In the Sculpture category, Female scientists
disliked the Figurative Brancusi more than the men, while
the Male Scientists disliked the Abstract Hepworth more
than the women . In the Microscopy category,
Male Scientists disliked the “abstract” examples more.
In the Conceptual Student Art category this trend was
reversed with the Female Scientists strongly disliking the
and Male Scientists liking
the “abstract” Lewis piece. This effect seems to be
associated with meaning rather than artwork style, and may
reflect the difficulty of classifying Conceptual Art in this way.
The trend was also reversed in the Microscopy images,
where the Female Control group disliked the figurative
images more, largely due to the
effect discussed above. However this was reversed
between the Male Scientists and Male Control groups,
where the Male Scientists disliked
The age analysis also showed some significant differences
between groups. For the
differences were found in three groups including Scientist
The research on 'How scientists look at art' found that Female scientists are more receptive of abstract artworks than their male counterparts, suggesting that they are likely to be open to a more ‘anarchic, creative and radical’ approach to science.
It suggests that women may bring added creativity and a more challenging approach to science, adding weight to the ongoing, global drive to encourage more women to enter the profession.