Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Re: [Yasmin_discussions] Mercado Central Exchange: yearning for a new art criticism ?

Dear Yasminers,

Joanna Griffin's recent post brought up the important issue of context. This is a central challenge for every field, not just art criticism. Friedrich Schleiermacher discussed the importance of context in relation to hermeneutics. His argument was that every interpretive effort — in this case, art criticism — requires at least two steps. First, the interpreter must understand and convey to the reader what the creator of a text (or an art work) meant in the context of its time. Second, the interpreter must create his or her own interpretation.

Hegel discusses the importance of context in his _Introduction to the Lectures on the History of Philosophy_. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1985.) For Hegel, context is a paramount issue of context, of which he writes: "No one can escape from the substance of his time any more than he can jump out of his skin" (p. 112).

Interestingly, a recent op-ed piece in the New York Times discusses this same point in relation to replicating studies in psych0logy.

The New York Times article is titled "Why Do So Many Studies Fail to Replicate?". It discusses the issue of replication. Some of the issues in this article are relevant to understanding or describing art, as well as having significance to art-science experiments. So far, there has been little effort spent in attempting to replicate artistic experiments, but this may not always be the case. To the degree that art-science experiments may have wide significance, then some form of replication should be possible. If this is not the case, then a great deal of art-science would only be some form of artistic commentary about science, rather than achieving some form of genuine hybrid art-science experimentation. For real experiment and attempts to replicate, context is vitally important. (As Joanna wrote, this is also crucial for understanding art.)

Over the past few years, there has been an important project in the field of psychology titled the Reproducibility Project. The article in the New York Times by Dr. Jay Van Bavel of New York University of New York University discusses the issues and challenges of the project — and the challenges of replication in any field that works with human beings rather than natural or physical phenomena. In my view, artistic experimentation is a form of communication, so it inevitably involves human beings rather than the pure study of scientific phenomena.

Here are Van Bavel's first three paragraphs:


Last year, a colleague asked me if I would send her the materials needed to try to replicate one of my published papers — that is, to rerun the study to see if its findings held up. "I'm not trying to attack you or anything," she added apologetically.

I laughed. To a scientist, replication is like breathing. Successful replications strengthen findings. Failed replications root out false claims and help refine imprecise ones. Testing and retesting make science what it is.

But I understood why my colleague was being delicate. Around that time, the largest replication project in the history of psychology was underway. This initiative, called the Reproducibility Project, reran 100 studies published in prominent psychology journals.


You will find the complete article at:

This op-ed piece is based on article by Van Bavel, Peter Mende-Siedlecki, William J. Brady and Diego A. Reinero in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences titled: "Contextual sensitivity in scientific reproducibility."

Here is the abstract:


In recent years, scientists have paid increasing attention to reproducibility. For example, the Reproducibility Project, a large-scale replication attempt of 100 studies published in top psychology journals found that only 39% could be unambiguously reproduced. There is a growing consensus among scientists that the lack of reproducibility in psychology and other fields stems from various methodological factors, including low statistical power, researcher's degrees of freedom, and an emphasis on publishing surprising positive results. However, there is a contentious debate about the extent to which failures to reproduce certain results might also reflect contextual differences (often termed "hidden moderators") between the original research and the replication attempt. Although psychologists have found extensive evidence that contextual factors alter behavior, some have argued that context is unlikely to influence the results of direct replications precisely because these studies use the same methods as those used in the original research. To help resolve this debate, we recoded the 100 original studies from the Reproducibility Project on the extent to which the research topic of each study was contextually sensitive. Results suggested that the contextual sensitivity of the research topic was associated with replication success, even after statistically adjusting for several methodological characteristics (e.g., statistical power, effect size). The association between contextual sensitivity and replication success did not differ across psychological subdisciplines. These results suggest that researchers, replicators, and consumers should be mindful of contextual factors that might influence a psychological process. We offer several guidelines for dealing with contextual sensitivity in reproducibility.


It seems to me that contextual sensitivity is an important factor in artistic experimentation *if* we were to spend more time attempting to study and replicate published results. While this is significant for projects in art history or criticism, it would also be important for understanding or replicating artistic experiments. These always involve human beings — and how they perceive, use, understand, or interact with art of many kinds.

You will find the original PNAS article in full at:

doi: 10.1073/pnas.1521897113

Best regards,


Ken Friedman, PhD, DSc (hc), FDRS | Editor-in-Chief | 设计 She Ji. The Journal of Design, Economics, and Innovation | Published by Tongji University in Cooperation with Elsevier | Launching in 2015

Chair Professor of Design Innovation Studies | College of Design and Innovation | Tongji University | Shanghai, China ||| University Distinguished Professor | Centre for Design Innovation | Swinburne University of Technology | Melbourne, Australia

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