Arty animals show they have a creative side
THE late Robert Hughes AO was without doubt Australia's most famous art critic and a celebrated author.
Was he over-rated as an art critic? I'm certainly not qualified to say, but what I can tell you is that some animals are smarter than you think.
A famous and oft-cited study in the field of cognitive science performed at Keio University in Japan in 1995, showed pigeons could be trained to recognise and discriminate between works of art by Picasso and Monet.
Not only that, but they could then generalise to paintings of other artists as either Cubist Picasso-like or Impressionist Monet-like.
After being trained by food rewards to peck at slides of different paintings, they were shown new and different paintings by the same artists and they could reliably recognise them and discriminate one from the other.
The researchers tried to work out how they did it by showing black and white versions, mosaic versions and upside down versions, and came to the conclusion that they used a complex combination of visual cues and pattern recognition not unlike we humans use to categorise such things.
An earlier study from 1984 with pigeons had shown that they could be trained to recognise and discriminate Bach's from Stravinsky's music and then to further categorise other composer's works as either Bach-like or Stravinsky-like.
A recent University of Queensland study has shown that honey bees are capable of similar feats of visual learning and discrimination, and can also do the Picasso-Monet thing!
The authors of this study postulate that discrimination of artistic styles is not a higher cognitive function unique to humans, but simply due to the capacity of animals-from insects to humans to extract and categorise the visual characteristics of complex images.
A bee's brain is not quite the size of a sesame seed and contains maybe a million neurons.
Robert Hughes had at least 1400g of grey matter and closer to one hundred billion nerve cells!