Skill Transfer in Visual Arts Expertise

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Previous research on expertise, both within and outside arts domains, points to moderately narrow transfer of abilities across domain boundaries. The current study tested just how far visual arts abilities transfer by administering a number of speeded visuospatial tasks along with nonvisual tasks to a group of visual arts majors (experts, n = 12) and a group of control students (novices, n = 15). Visual artists outperformed novices on some of the tasks, most notably on the Building Memory task, which requires both visuospatial location encoding and semantic encoding. Experts also showed superior visual skills on 2 tests that indicate flexibility of closure, which is described as a kind of mental imagery-based ability. Importantly, the experts and novices performed similarly on 2 tasks of logical and mathematical ability, which provides evidence that visual art expertise may not transfer beyond visual tasks. The clearest implication from our results is that of a superiority of quick and accurate visual encoding shown by visual artists. The limitations of the quasi-experimental nature of the study and the small sample size are discussed, along with recommendations for future research.

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