Those knowingly looking at an imitation by Perenyi may be less satisfied, and not necessarily because the painting itself is any worse than the original. Winner and her lab have studied forgeries, and they recently submitted a paper on the topic which is pending publication. The results lend weight to what many of us simply feel: We don’t like knowing we’re looking at a fake. It could be because we think fakes are immoral or because they’re not going to make us millions in profit. But the research suggests that the answer lies in our “magical beliefs about the artist,” said Winner. When people were shown two indistinguishable photographs and told one is printed by the artist and the other is a sanctioned print by an assistant, people tend to prefer the former to the latter.
But You Should Still Paint
Even if you can’t forge the perfect Picasso, there is good evidence to suggest that painting will make you happier. Jen Drake, a professor at Brooklyn College, has found that painting can be a powerful “mood regulator.” In a series of studies, Drake took adults and children and essentially made them feel sad before breaking them up into two groups. She asked one group to express their feelings through drawing and another to draw neutral, external items. After 10 to 15 minutes, she asked them how they were feeling. Across multiple studies looking at both children and adults, “we found that when we use drawing as a way to distract, as a way to take us away from what upsets us, we feel better afterwards. More so than when we use it as a form of expression,” Drake tells me. Moreover, “you don’t have to be talented in drawing to reap the benefits—it’s something anyone can do,” she adds.
So why would someone buy a painting when they could just make their own? Ultimately, there is no final answer, and treating this as purely a practical question is obviously limited. To make art, you don’t need anyone’s approval or validation, least of all mine or that of any other viewer. It doesn’t need to serve a tangible benefit, you can just do it if you want—or leave it in the hands of the masters. That said, next up in this critical series: Why would someone buy an artist’s painting when they could just have an elephant paint one