Do Let the Pigeon Be an Art Critic?

By Carol Hinz
Editorial Director, Millbrook Press

Pigeons cover Animal books are a staple of children’s nonfiction publishing. We offer books on everything from sugar gliders to ticks to pigeons. So I try to pay special attention when an interesting new piece of information about animals comes to light.

A few days ago, I heard about some research by Professor Shigeru Watanabe from Keio University in Japan. He trained a group of racing pigeons to differentiate between “good” and “bad” works of art by elementary students. The classifications of good and bad were made by an art teacher and ten other adults. The good pictures were more detailed and precise, so I’m not quite sure what the pigeons would do when faced with Abstract Expressionism.

But what did we really learn from this experiment? Professor Watanabe said, “Artistic endeavors have been long thought to be limited to humans, but this experiment shows that, with training, pigeons are capable of distinguishing between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ paintings. This research does not deal with advanced artistic judgments, but it shows that pigeons are able to acquire the ability to judge beauty similar to that of humans.”

For more on the study, including images of the works of art, take a look at this Science Daily article.

Millbrook also happens to publish a series of books about art: Bob Raczka’s Art Adventures. I’m not sure if we’ll be able to bring together pigeons and art criticism in an upcoming book, but someone should alert the children’s book world’s most famous pigeon that a new career opportunity awaits.