What’s the difference between a pigeon and an art critic?  »

Answer: not much! According to Keio University psychologist Shigeru Watanabe, pigeons can differentiate between “good” and “bad” art after having been taught to recognize the “concept of a stimulus class that humans name ‘good’ pictures.” What?

At this university in Tokyo, Watanabe showed the pigeons a set of children’s paintings, which had been judged “good” or “bad” by a group of adults. Through positive reinforcement, the pigeons learned how to recognize “good” and “bad” art—he gave them seeds when they chose (whatever that means in this case, “chose”) the “good” art. He then repeated the experiment with 10 new paintings by adults, and had the pigeons choose which were “good” and which were “bad.” The pigeons picked out the “good” art “twice as often” as the “bad.” Amazing!

The article doesn’t say whether the number of pigeons who deemed a painting “good” or “bad” corresponded with the work’s critical reception or popularity, which is too bad because that would be interesting; nor does it say what kind of pigeons they were. Regardless, if a pigeon can have the same opinion as an expert art critic, maybe we should all be going to more museums and galleries. It’s a lot more rewarding to see art than read about what someone else thinks about it.

If a pigeon wrote a column, though, I would definitely read it.

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