Visual Image Statistics in the History of Western Art

in Art & Perception
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The history of Western visual art is traditionally divided into a succession of stylistic movements on the basis of the art-historical provenance and visual qualities of artworks. Little is known about how the visual statistics of Western artworks have changed over time, though this data could inform debate about the transitions between art movements. This longitudinal statistical study shows that two measures of the statistics of Western paintings remained relatively stable for 500 years, and similar to the values found in photographic images depicting the same subjects. Dramatic changes began in the late nineteenth century between the years 1878 and 1891, when the statistics of artworks became steadily more variable, and more frequently departed from values that are typical of representational images. This period can be considered as a major turning point that marks the beginning of the Modern Art movement. Statistically, abstract Modern art is more diverse than the representational art of any period. There is only limited evidence that aesthetic responses to paintings bear any relation to their visual statistics.

Visual Image Statistics in the History of Western Art

in Art & Perception



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    Upper: Scatterplot of the fractal dimension of 542 Western artworks created during the period 1400–2008. The solid line represents the moving average fractal dimension at each date (mean of artworks within +/− 25 years of the date). The dashed line represents the mean fractal dimension of 245 photographic images of the same range of subjects. Lower: Scatterplot of the Shannon entropy of 542 Western artworks created during the period 1400–2008. The solid line represents the moving average Shannon entropy at each date (mean of artworks within +/− 25 years). The dashed line represents the mean Shannon entropy of 245 photographic images of the same range of subjects.

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    The variability of Shannon entropy and fractal dimension in 542 Western artworks over time. The red points and right-hand vertical axis represent Shannon entropy; the blue points and left-hand vertical axis represent fractal dimension. Variability at each date corresponds to the standard deviation of artworks within +/− 25 years of the date. The straight lines represent best-fitting linear segments according to piecewise linear regression analysis, for SE (red) and FD (blue).

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    Upper: Scatterplot of beauty ratings of 451 paintings from the JenAesthetics and MART datasets. The solid line represents the moving average value of beauty over time. The vertical dashed lines mark the best-fitting split dates from the analysis of statistical variability in FD (blue line) and SE (red line). Lower: Variability (moving standard deviation) of beauty ratings over time. The vertical dashed lines mark the best-fitting split dates from the analysis of statistical variability in FD (blue line) and SE (red line).

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    Scatterplots of beauty ratings of artworks prior to 1878 against FD (blue points and left-hand axis), and of artworks prior to 1891 against SE (red points and right-hand axis). R-squared values were 0.023 for FD and 0.036 for SE.

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