From Scientific American (click here to hear the podcast):
A study in the journal Computers & Graphics finds that computer programs for identifying works of art fall far short of even nonexpert human judges, because of our ability to psychologically evaluate scenes.
No surprise: machines and humans have differing opinions about art. Researchers from the Max Planck Institute and the University of Girona had computers and non-art expert humans place each of 275 paintings into one of 11 artistic periods, for example, Baroque or Surreal. And, unlike in chess, people far outshone their silicon competitors. That’s according to a study in the journal Computers & Graphics.
Computer algorithms judged the art by obvious and quantifiable parameters, such as the way the paint was laid on the canvas, or the color composition. But humans classified art based on complex psychological evaluation. We ask questions such as, who is in the image? And, what emotions are being portrayed in the scene? This kind of analysis is crucial for correctly identifying art—because even non-expert people were right two thirds of the time, far better than their computer competitors. And that makes sense: ultimately, art is about our emotional reaction to a Starry Night or a Girl With A Pearl Earring. But to a computer it’s all just brushstrokes.
—Molly Webster, Scientific American