Science & Environment

No link between art's emotional value and price

Paint brush
Image caption The value of art bore no relation to the emotional response it elicited

Mark Rothko's Orange Red Yellow recently sold for $87m (£55m).

But are famous paintings so expensive because they move us more than other, cheaper works of art?

This is the question So You Want to Be a Scientist? finalist Dara Djavan Khoshdel set out to answer; He was a runner-up in BBC Radio 4's Amateur Scientist of the Year award.

He found that people's emotional response to an artwork doesn't correlate to price.

The study was conducted at Modern Art Oxford.

Mr Djavan Khoshdel, a 24 year old mature student from Bournemouth said: "We are told by the art world that abstract artworks evoke deep and powerful emotions that merit them their price tags. I thought someone should go and test that hypothesis."

Since January, Mr Djavan Khoshdel has worked together with physiologist Professor Andrew Parker and art historian Professor Martin Kemp, both of Oxford University.

Professor Parker helped turn the idea into a testable experiment.

"When Dara came along with this question, it immediately gripped me as being an interesting question," said Prof Parker, "and that is the starting point of any really good scientific investigation."

Image caption Participants were sent to view paintings by the 20th Century artist Graham Sutherland

In the study, 12 participants were kitted out with a galvanic skin response monitor. Looking a bit like a wrist watch, the kit registers minor changes in sweating. We sweat a small amount when we see something that we find emotionally arousing.

After being wired up, participants were sent into the Modern Art Oxford gallery to look at a selection of war paintings by Graham Sutherland, a British artist from the 20th Century.

The researchers correlated the emotional responses they collected with the insurance values of the paintings.

Mr Djavan Khoshdel explained: "What we found really surprised us. We found that emotional arousal has no impact on the value of the work of art."

Art historian and collaborator on the project, Professor Martin Kemp, added: "The results suggest that valuation in the art world is really rubbish!"

Mr Djavan Khoshdel presented his findings at the Cheltenham Science Festival on June 16 in front of a panel of judges.

Mark Henderson, head of communications at The Wellcome Trust, said of the study: "This was terrific stuff. I really loved that it came up with a null result.

"There is something terrifically important about that in an exercise that is meant to demonstrate science - so often a null result can be more interesting than finding what you expected."

The other runners up were Izzy Thomlinson and William Rudling. Ms Thomlinson showed that women are more annoyed by horrible noises than men are. Mr Rudling investigated whether people with similar faces also have similar voices

The finals took place at Cheltenham Science Festival on Saturday June 16. The event was recorded for Material World and will be broadcast on Thursday 21 June at 16:30 BST on Radio 4.

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