Tuesday, September 01, 2009
Is art criticism so easy that a pigeon can do it?
Our own Morgan Meis in The Smart Set:
I've always been suspicious of the birds. Maybe it's because they are always spying on us from above. The ancients understood that the birds were in cahoots with powerful forces. They poked about in bird entrails trying to find messages from the heavens, omens from hell. They wondered whom the birds were working for. Poor Prometheus was punished for the simple and humane act of giving fire to mankind. It is no accident that he was punished with the torture of an eagle eternally feasting on his liver. The birds will always sell us out for a pittance.
Our latest humiliation at the hands of our feathery friends comes in the unexpected realm of art criticism. The birds, it seems, enter any arena if there is the chance of making us look like fools.
Here's what happened. Shigeru Watanabe (a psychologist at Keio University in Tokyo and possibly a man in league with the birds) set up a nefarious experiment. Watanabe showed children's paintings to pigeons; a panel of adults had deemed each work either good or bad. He trained the pigeons to distinguish between them with a system of tasty rewards. When the pigeons pecked correctly, he gave them some seed. Later, he presented 10 paintings to the birds they had never seen. Five of these paintings had been deemed good by humans, five bad. The pigeons recognized the good paintings as “good” twice as often as they recognized the “bad” paintings. In short, they came off as pretty good critics. There are those (names withheld) writing for major publications who might do markedly less well. Given these results, Watanabe claims, "pigeons are capable of learning the concept of a stimulus class that humans name 'good' pictures."
Posted by S. Abbas Raza at 02:44 AM | Permalink