Study Finds Human Brains Respond Differently to Forged Art

12/06/2011 1:53 PM |

Can you tell which of these Van Gogh self-portraits is real?
  • Can you tell which of these Van Gogh self-portraits is real?

A new neuroscience study this week used MRIs of human test subjects taken while they looked at artworks, some real some fake, and found that our brains respond differently to the forged and genuine articles even when they initially appeared indistinguishable. (Try telling that to the guy who bought the $17 million fake Jackson Pollock.)

The study just published in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, the Telegraph reports, found that when test subjects were told that the artwork they were looking at was the real deal “it raised activity in the part of the brain that deals with rewarding events, such as tasting pleasant food or winning a gamble.” On the other hand, when an artwork was revealed to be a fake, “they tried to work out why the experts regarded it as such.”

Thus, Professor Martin Kemp, Emeritus Professor of the History of Art at Oxford University, one of the experiment’s conductors, concludes:

It is always better to think we are seeing the genuine article. Our study shows that the way we view art is not rational, that even when we cannot distinguish between two works, the knowledge that one was painted by a renowned artist makes us respond to it very differently.

We should note the very specific nature of the works used in the study—Rembrandt portraits—and wonder how subjects might have responded to more contemporary real-fake combos (Koons balloon dogs and bookends?) not to mention art that replicates or consists of copies of cheaply mass-produced objects, like, say, an Andy Warhol Brillo box.

The moral here is that all art is real, even when it’s forged.

3 Comment

  • Your headline rather mischaracterizes the study, making it sound as though “real” art has some sort of significant effect on the brain that “fake” art cannot match. Whereas the study suggests that brains respond differently after subjects are *told* that certain pieces are art and others are forgeries.

  • You’re drawing cynical conclusions about Ben’s intentions. The headline states a simple fact and isn’t a mischaracterization of anything.

  • That was also the moral of CERTIFIED COPY, incidentally. I think?