CODART, Dutch and Flemish art in museums worldwide

Fenna Poletiek

Connoisseurship of the Crowd by Fenna Poletiek
Lecturer in Cognitive Psychology, Leiden University, Leiden

Recognizing and attributing apparently very similar artistic styles to their authors might be seen as a special case of implicit knowledge. In cognitive psychology, implicit learning refers to our capability to learn underlying structural characteristics of stimuli without instruction, without being aware of this learning, without having the intention to learn them, and without meta-knowledge about what exactly we have learned. One example is children learning the grammar of their native language. At the age of five, they can tell that John kisses Mary means something other than Mary kisses John, showing that they have learned the ordering rules of grammar, obviously without being able to articulate these rules.

In contrast to the grammaticality of a sentence (we immediately hear that the sentence John kisses walk is incorrect), however, the validity of style recognition can occasionally be impossible to evaluate, when there is no independent information about the item judged. Style recognition can often do no more than approximate the truth. If so, how could the quality of this special types of judgment, be assessed and improved?

In the presentation, I will address two crucial characteristics of style recognition that have also been studied in other types of judgments by cognitive psychologists: firstly the absence of meta-knowledge (being unable to articulate precisely what underlies one’s judgment) and secondly, the validity issue (how to improve something when we don’t know how good it is?). We will explore how results from cognitive psychology – in particular a style recognition experiment with lay people conducted in our lab – might contribute to improving artistic style recognition. Strikingly, an important factor simply seems to be the rule of large numbers: multiple judgments, and multiple judges rather than the eye of just one.

About Fenna Poletiek
Dr. Fenna Poletiek is a lecturer in Cognitive Psychology at Leiden University, the Netherlands. She graduated at the University of Groningen – where she also attended Art School Minerva on a part-time basis. She got her PhD at the University of Amsterdam. Her thesis research was a theoretical and experimental study on hypothesis testing behavior; especially our tendency to search for new information that confirms our beliefs and to neglect information that is at odds with our prior beliefs. She currently studies and teaches – among other topics – the psychology of decision-making and judgment, with applications in the courtroom, medical settings, and science and art.