Is there an artistry to lighting? The complexity of illuminating three-dimensional artworks

Smith, Austen, K.
Sedgewick, Jennifer, R
Weiers, Bradley
Elias, Lorin, J.
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American Psychological Association

Painters tend to depict a leftward light source more often in works of art (Mamassian, 2008) and even non-artists will light a painting from the left (McDine, Livingston, Thomas, & Elias, 2011). This bias does not appear to persist across mediums, however, as Sedgewick, Weiers, Stewart, and Elias (2015) found a slight rightward lighting bias when non-artists illuminated three-dimensional (3D) sculptures. Given the unexpected finding from 3D stimuli and considering that the majority of aesthetics research uses stimuli which are two-dimensional (2D), we thought it prudent to attempt a replication of Sedgewick et al.’s findings with a simplified version of the sculpture lighting task. We also used the greyscales task, recruited a group of bilingual native right-to-left (RTL) readers, and made additional comparisons with professionally lit sculptures in native left-to-right (LTR) and RTL reading regions of the world. We found a left lighting bias among LTR professionals and an opposite right lighting bias among RTL professionals. LTR and RTL non-artists both showed no bias for lighting and a leftward bias on the greyscales task. However, both professionals in galleries and non-artists in the lab demonstrate congruency between posing and lighting directions. The attenuation of the leftward lighting bias, which is normally observed, may be related to the complexity of illuminating a sculpture. Illuminating more complex stimuli appears to extinguish the bias in non-artists, whereas the leftward lighting bias persists for more rudimentary stimuli from artists and non-artists alike.

©American Psychological Association, 2021. This paper is not the copy of record and may not exactly replicate the authoritative document published in the APA journal. The final article is available, upon publication, at:
pseudoneglect, posing bias, sculpture, aesthetics, native reading direction
Smith, A. K., Sedgewick, J. R., Weiers, B., & Elias, L. J. (2021). Is there an artistry to lighting? The complexity of illuminating three-dimensional artworks. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, 15(1), 20–27.