Yes, Men Fake It When They Look at Art

Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

One of the most tired gender stereotypes is the idea of a woman dragging a dude to a museum to look at art despite his groaning protests (it’s probably a Sunday, and his NFL team is probably playing). Women, of course, want to look at and talk about beautiful things, but guys just don’t get the appeal. It’s a silly, outdated notion — but it also has a tiny bit of truth to it, at least according to a new study in Psychology & Marketing.

To the press release:

[Lead author Stephanie Mangus of Michigan State] and her fellow researchers had 518 people look at two unfamiliar paintings with made-up biographies of the artist. Some participants read a bio that characterized the artist as authentic – in other words, a lifelong painter who creates unique work. Others read a bio that characterized the artist as an ordinary painter who took up the craft only recently.

When the artist was characterized as authentic, participants had a much more favorable impression of both the artist and the artwork. Participants indicated they were more willing to buy that artist’s painting and to pay a higher price for it.

Men were much more likely to use the artist’s brand as a deciding factor when evaluating art. Mangus said this jibes with past research that indicates men tend to use factors that are known to them (in this case, the artist’s brand) when making a decision.

Women also took the artist’s authenticity into account, but a bigger factor for them was the artwork itself. “Women are more willing to go through a complicated process of actually evaluating the artwork,” Mangus said, “whereas men may say, ‘This guy’s a great artist, so I’ll buy his art.’”

These are averages, of course, so it doesn’t mean all men react to art one way, while all women react another way. Plus, as with most studies involving gender, it’s impossible to disentangle the role of culture and socialization here. In other words, it could be that many of the men in this study who didn’t look closely at the art had had it drilled into their heads at an early age — perhaps as a result of overexposure to dumb beer commercials — that that just isn’t something men are supposed to do.