Is the Mona Lisa any good? It’s widely regarded not only as the most famous painting in the world, but also as one of the greatest. But why? Is there something inherent in a work of art that makes it recognizable as great? Or is there something else at play? Something like chance…

Here’s an interesting piece on a guy who devised an experiment that would allow us to see how works of art would fare not in just one possible world, but in many:

“He would create a series of identical worlds online filled with the same pieces of art, then get thousands of people to choose which they liked best.

If the same art rose to the top of every world, then he would know that success was driven by the inherent qualities of that work. If not, he could conclude, success was essentially random.”

The results may surprise you. Or maybe they are what you expect… But a couple of caveats are in order. First, the art used in the experiment was music, not visual art. And the subjects doing the judging were teenagers. 30,000 of them were recruited to judge 48 songs in 9 identical online worlds. The only difference was that one of the worlds was the control, in which the subjects could not see which songs were popular, whereas they could see this in the other eight.

I can see some potential problems with this experiment. 30,000 is a good number, and they were randomly assigned to the 9 worlds, all of which contained the same 48 songs, so the methodology seems fine. But beyond the nagging suspicion that what is being measured here is actually peer pressure among teens, we aren’t told where the teens are physically located. Nor their gender, or race, or other socio-economic or cultural factors. If we want to know about the universality of great art, these would seem to be relevant.

I want to see the results of 30,000 geographically, culturally, economically diverse people of various ages and genders, all presented with the Mona Lisa…

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