Art Perception is Affected by Negative Knowledge about Famous and Unknown Artists

April 30, 2024

The biographies of some celebrated artists are marked by accounts that paint a far from beautiful portrait. Does this negative-social knowledge influence the aesthetic experience of an artwork? Does an artist’s fame protect their paintings from such an influence?

We present two preregistered experiments examining the effect of social–emotional biographical knowledge about famous and unknown artists on the reception and perception of their paintings, using aesthetic ratings and neurocognitive measures.

In Experiment 1, paintings attributed to artists characterized by negative biographical information were liked less, evoked greater feelings of arousal and were judged lower in terms of quality, than paintings by artists associated with neutral information. No modulation of artist renown was found.

Experiment 2 fully replicated these behavioral results and revealed that paintings by artists associated with negative social-emotional knowledge also elicited enhanced early brain activity related to visual perception (P1) and early emotional arousal (early posterior negativity; EPN).

Together, the findings suggest that negative knowledge about famous artists can shape not only explicit aesthetic evaluations but may also penetrate the perception of the artwork itself.

Learn more about this topic by Hannah Kaube & Rasha Abdel Rahman in Scientific Reports as seen on

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