Great Works: A Reciprocal Relationship Between Spatial Magnitudes and Aesthetic Judgment

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Inspired by the work of the great aestheticians of the 1700s and modern psychological work in spatial cognition, we sought to test the bidirectional relationship between spatial magnitudes and aesthetic value. In a series of 5 experiments, we show that changing the size and position of a painting can impact judgments of its aesthetic value, and conversely. The same painting is believed to be larger when presented as a master artist’s versus as a student’s work (Experiment 1). Increasing the size of painting makes it seem better (Experiment 2). A painting presented as a master’s work appears larger, closer, and better than when presented as a fake (Experiment 3). Master artists’ paintings are recommended to be placed higher on the wall than students’ paintings (Experiment 4). Finally, when hung high, a painting is judged better than when it is presented at eye level, and worse when it is presented below eye level (Experiment 5). Together these findings demonstrate a reciprocal relationship between the greatness of a work and its spatial position and scale.

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