Aesthetic preferences for Eastern and Western traditional visual art: Identity matters

Yan Bao, Taoxi Yang, Xiaoxiong Lin, Yuan Fang, Yi Wang, Ernst Pöppel, Quan Lei

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Western and Chinese artists have different traditions in representing the world in their paintings. While Western artists start since the Renaissance to represent the world with a central perspective and focus on salient objects in a scene, Chinese artists concentrate on context information in their paintings, mainly before the mid-19th century. We investigated whether the different typical representations influence the aesthetic preference for traditional Chinese and Western paintings in the different cultural groups. Traditional Chinese and Western paintings were presented randomly for an aesthetic evaluation to Chinese and Western participants. Both Chinese and Western paintings included two categories: landscapes and people in different scenes. Results showed a significant interaction between the source of the painting and the cultural group. For Chinese and Western paintings, a reversed pattern of aesthetic preference was observed: while Chinese participants gave higher aesthetic scores to traditional Chinese paintings than to Western paintings, Western participants tended to give higher aesthetic scores to traditional Western paintings than to Chinese paintings. We interpret this observation as indicator that personal identity is supported and enriched within cultural belongingness. Another important finding was that landscapes were more preferable than people in a scene across different cultural groups indicating a universal principle of preferences for landscapes. Thus, our results suggest that, on the one hand, the way that artists represent the world in their paintings influences the way that culturally embedded viewers perceive and appreciate paintings, but on the other hand, independent of the cultural background, anthropological universals are disclosed by the preference of landscapes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number1596
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Issue numberOCT
StatePublished - Oct 20 2016

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Project. 31371018, 91120004, and J1103602), the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), and the China Scholarship Council (No. [2014]3026).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 Bao, Yang, Lin, Fang, Wang, Pöppel and Lei.


  • Aesthetics
  • Beauty
  • Chinese painting
  • Culture
  • Visual perception
  • Western painting

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