Psychology professor Shigeru Watanabe researches aesthetic preference in pigeons, sparrows, and mice:
In general mice did not display a painting preference except for two mice: one preferred Renoir to Picasso, and the other preferred Kandinsky to Mondrian. Thereafter, I examined discrimination of paintings with new mice. When exposure to paintings of one artist was associated with an injection of morphine (3.0 mg/kg), mice displayed conditioned preference for those paintings, showing discrimination of paintings by Renoir from those by Picasso, and paintings by Kandinsky from those by Mondrian after the conditioning. … [R]esults suggest that mice can discriminate not only between an artist’s style but also among paintings of the same artist.
Allison Meier questions the point of such experiments:
Why bother with this rather whimsical research? Well, the idea that art and the appreciation of aesthetics is a human thing is one that Watanabe is confronting with these studies, where the cognition that something is beautiful or ugly, or “good” or “bad” with art can reflect sensory experiences in other species, as well as show that the experience of art is tied to the experience of pleasure.
While the mice got morphine and the birds got food for their either spending more time with a painting or choosing it with the tap of a button (for the judging pigeons), humans get this … in a less food-based way. However, rodents are even more interesting being that they’re not considered as visual as birds, and in the end they mostly didn’t really seem to care if they were with Mondrian’s “Broadway Boogie Woogie,” Kandinsky’s “Mondo Blue,” Picasso’s “Girl Before a Mirror,” or Renoir’s “Rowers at Argenteuil”…
(Image: Improvisation 27 (Garden of Love II), 1912, Wassily Kandinsky)