Abstract Expression

How scientists uncovered abstract art's powerful effect on the mind

The most enjoyable part of abstract art could also be the most useful.

A new study out of Columbia University suggests that abstract art can literally change your state of mind.

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An examination of 840 people revealed that abstract art can evoke a sense of "psychological distance."

This encourages us to think of larger concepts, rather than minute details.

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"Something as fluid as enjoying art has demonstrable and measurable effects on how our mind works.”

— Daphna Shohamy, a study co-author and associate professor of Psychology at Columbia University

Now experience it for yourself...

The team asked Amazon Mechanical Turks to pretend they were art critics...

They looked at three kinds of paintings.

Representational paintings

These paintings have recognizable objects.

Credit: Clyfford Still Museum.

Paintings with abstract, but recognizable objects.

Credit: Heritage Images / Contributor

And abstract paintings.

Credit: Heritage Images / Contributor

People were asked if they would place each painting in an exhibition happening "tomorrow" or "in a year."

They also indicated if they'd put it in a gallery "around the block" or in another state

Results:

The more abstract the painting, the more likely it was that people would place it in a gallery in another state or in an opening a year from now.

That indicates that the paintings triggered a sense of "psychological distance."

A psychologically distant event might be a picnic that's happening a year from now. A psychologically close event might happen tomorrow.

When we think of psychologically distant events, we focus on large concepts, like having fun at that picnic rather than small details, like when it will happen.

Abstract art is linked to that psychologically distant state of mind.

It may help us see those bigger ideas and concepts.

Find out more about how art abstract art affects the mind here.

Credit: Heritage Images / Contributor

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