High entropy of edge orientations characterizes visual artworks from diverse cultural backgrounds

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Abstract

We asked whether “good composition” or “visual rightness” of artworks manifest themselves in a particular arrangement of basic image features, such as oriented luminance edges. Specifically, we analysed the layout of edge orientations in images from a collection of >1600 paintings of Western provenance by comparing pairwise the orientation of each edge in an image with the orientations of all other edges in the same image. From the resulting orientation histograms, we calculated Shannon entropy and parallelism (i.e., the degree to which lines are parallel in the image). For comparison, we analysed the same second-order image properties in photographs of diverse natural patterns and man-made objects and scenes. Results showed that Shannon entropy of relative orientations of edge pairs was high and parallelism was low for the paintings and some of the natural patterns, but differed from other sets of photographs, including other man-made stimuli. The differences were also observed when images were matched for image content. Moreover, high entropy of edge orientations was found in traditional artworks produced by different techniques, in artworks that represented different content matter and art genres, as well as in artworks from other cultural backgrounds (East Asian and Islamic). In conclusion, we found that high entropy of edge orientations characterizes diverse sets of traditional artworks from various cultural backgrounds.

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