The Vanity of Small Differences

Empirical Studies of Extrinsic Factors and Artistic Value


  • Shen-yi Liao University of Puget Sound
  • Aaron Meskin University of Georgia
  • Jade Fletcher New College of the Humanities



context of appreciation, authenticity, magical thinking, art museum, aesthetic judgment, experimental aesthetics


To what extent are factors that are extrinsic to the artwork relevant to judgements of artistic value? One might approach this question using traditional philosophical methods, but one can also approach it using empirical methods; that is, by doing experimental philosophical aesthetics. This paper provides an example of the latter approach. We report two empirical studies that examine the significance of three sorts of extrinsic factors for judgements of artistic value: the causal-historical factor of contagion, the ontological factor of uniqueness, and the contextual factor of appreciative environment.

We explore the context of appreciation by performing studies in a museum as well as the lab. We found that contagion made a difference in both settings. However, uniqueness only made a difference in the lab setting, but not in the museum. This suggests that the context of appreciation may make a difference to judgements of artistic value. Of broader significance, these studies show the value of experimental philosophical aesthetics and the value of doing in situ empirical research on art.


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How to Cite

“The Vanity of Small Differences: Empirical Studies of Extrinsic Factors and Artistic Value”. 2020. Aesthetic Investigations 4 (1): 6-21.