Art and Brexit

October 2 2018

Image of Art and Brexit

Picture: via OSF Home

Does your taste in art dictate your political preferences? I suspect not. But some academics at Oxford's Nuffield College have set about trying to find out. The trouble is, the artworks they've chosen are ill-suited to the task, and there aren't enough of them. I've seen some pretty pathetic attempts to link art and politics before, but this is the most risible yet. I can't believe any academic, yet alone an Oxford one, thought this was a good idea.

The aim of the study was to see if people who preferred 'realistic' art - as opposed to 'abstract' art - also preferred Brexit to Remain. The study concluded that they did, by some 15-20%. Now, you might well think that a preference for abstract art equates to a preference for more 'liberal', or globalist, Remain-type politics. And that's doubtless the stereotype the study's authors were hoping to promote - modern art lovers have more modern politics. 

But leaving aside whether we can ever characterise Leave/Remain politics along such lines, let's look at the methodology behind the study. Which is frankly laughable. The authors chose four pairs of pictures, and in each one there was a 'realistic' picture and an 'abstract' picture. And we can tell all we need to know about the study by the fact that the first 'realistic' painting was a Thomas Kinkade 'light' painting, 'Village Lighthouse' (above), a completely invented, fantasy picture of so little artistic merit and such confected, cloudy schmaltz that it's actually impossible to decide whether it's 'realistic' or 'abstract' (in fact, it's more catarract than abstract). The 'abstract' pair to the Kinkade painting is a fairly literal depiction of Yarmouth Port by Irma Cerese (below). 

The other pairs are only slightly less daft. Here's the portrait category. 'Realistic' is Jessica in Profile by David Gray.

Then for the 'abstract', Francis Bacon's Isabel Rawthorne. 

For the still life category, the realistic picture was Purple of Lilies with White Variation by Michael Klein.

Versus Pink Caladium by David Hockney. 

Now, I don't doubt that it may be possible to determine if people who like, say, 'old' art versus modern art have different political outlooks. But the way to do this is not by showing a small group of people a small number of badly chosen pictures. If you want to choose a 'realistic' landscape, then at least go for something that is a real scene, painted outside, by an artist who was determinedly trying to capture something 'real'. Perhaps a scene by Calame, say. And then you need to allow for all sorts of other biases in the way people choose their art preferences, like modern versus old - so perhaps an abstract painting by Turner should be included too. There is a way to do studies like this; it just requires a better understanding of art history. Let's stop using tired clichés about art to justify pre-determined social and political conclusions. 

Notice to "Internet Explorer" Users

You are seeing this notice because you are using Internet Explorer 6.0 (or older version). IE6 is now a deprecated browser which this website no longer supports. To view the Art History News website, you can easily do so by downloading one of the following, freely available browsers:

Once you have upgraded your browser, you can return to this page using the new application, whereupon this notice will have been replaced by the full website and its content.