29 August 2018

The Craft of Captioning Artworks

My article for ArtsProfessional based upon my psychology research, and its application in museums and gallery practice.


 If artists want an authentic response to their work, they need to give viewers a way in.

How do you caption a deliberately ambiguous object?

One question eternally asked by artists goes as follows: is what I am putting into this work actually what the audience experiences? And the answer to that will always elicit diverse responses.

‘Untitled’ is not an open door to many viewers, and is in fact a closed door

As an artist myself, I have always been fascinated by the creative process and the mechanisms going on when making, looking at or thinking about work. It’s a form of reflective practice that I took further by taking an MSc in psychology. The learning curve into science was considerable, but I was able to direct my final project back to the arts. I made a study comparing artists and non-artists in a series of tasks about the meaning of objects. Study conditions made my results statistically reliable, and I found differences in how objects are understood.

Research study
My experiment was a series of tasks where participants had a choice in a triad of objects, starting with a scientific standard: What goes in the same category as milk – cow or lemonade? If you choose cow, that’s the thematic choice, because the link is by narrative association in that milk comes from a cow. If you choose lemonade, the choice is taxonomic, because milk and lemonade are only linked by sharing certain physical properties in that they are both liquids.

Subsequent tasks were deliberately more ambiguous, and did not neatly divide into thematic and taxonomic choices. They were mixed, or ambiguous, as objects are in life and in art.

My study included measures for ambiguity. My current, non-scientific, working definition of art would be ‘deliberately ambiguous objects’. After the study, there were conversations with participating artists who thought, or realised, that ambiguity was the key to their art. This is what the art-crit really explores – the thematic, taxonomic and ambiguous properties of work. In other words: is this thing what I think it is, and does it mean what I want it to mean? In even plainer words: does it do what it says on the tin?

It doesn’t matter how abstract or conceptual the art is, these are the fundamental concepts and practicalities artists grapple with in their practice, and by extension, art institutions when they present art.

My study simply provides evidence that artists overwhelmingly access stories or personal memories when deciding what an ambiguous object is, whereas none of the non-artists did. Artists were better able to ‘read’ an object and offer more interpretations, whereas non-artists were more stumped.

Many artists want people to apprehend their work honestly, to encounter it with an authentic response, but my study shows that you have to give people an opening. Artists and galleries have to provide titles, clues, ways in and things to relate to.

Titling and styling
The title, like that of any book or film, gives the first clue to the audience, and is a signpost towards, or away from, what it’s supposed to mean. The title is what’s written on the tin. My research suggests that art should be titled. ‘Untitled’ is not an open door to many viewers, and is in fact a closed door. As an artist, I always thought titling work was part of the fun, and part of the work.

Art institutions should also think less about sticking to a house style, where assumptions are unconsciously adopted throughout. There is no one clear, universal font, and no one style that can cover all bases. Therefore, it makes sense to interpret and caption in a diversity of styles.

What this means in practice is simply shaking things up every so often and loosening up rigidity. Different types of text or layout will speak to someone who has been missed out before. It needn’t be chaotic, only diverse.

Making assumptions
Psychology study results are often counter-intuitive – we don’t always do what we think we do. I have subsequently talked to some participants who assure me they always tell themselves a story when looking at work. I don’t contradict them, but sometimes I remember what their response was and I’ve gone back to check and the results speak differently.

We think we have thought through inclusivity, but miss out aspects beyond our assumptions. We all make assumptions – that’s part of human nature, but arts professionals make art assumptions, and don’t usually see outside that paradigm.

In my career as an artist, I’ve participated in exhibitions, reviewed and written about hundreds, and assessed them for various schemes. I use galleries for meetings with colleagues and students and love to visit them with friends, family or by myself. I’m something of a professional visitor. So I look out for these things, and yet I still find myself sometimes confounded by access, layout and captioning. I’m tuned in, but sometimes it doesn’t speak to me and I don’t get it. And so what of someone who doesn’t really speak the language?

My approach for more diversity would be for galleries and institutions to welcome in the occasional external perspective. If I was a gallery director, I would note the observations of new staff and interns who still have a fresh eye. I would do a walk-through of my space with an outside professional such as a retail expert who specialises in customer flow. And I would invite independent assessors for a ‘does-it-do-what-it-says-on-the-tin’ walk-through.

First published at www.artsprofessional.co.uk, 28/Aug/2018.

The Language of Textiles

Catalogue piece to accompany Bow Arts Raw Materials exhibition

The English language is a great melting pot of borrowed phrases and words, influences from invaders and explorers, and the legacy of thousands of years of cultural and social life. Even many years after working terms and practices have died out, they linger on in the language, becoming part of the way we express ourselves every day.

In this richness of words and phrases, expressions and words relating to textiles are deeply woven through the language. It wasn’t so long ago that many cardigans were home-knitted, that clothes were more usually sewn on the sewing machine than shop-bought, and before that, many households were industrial units, completing piecework. Sewing, knitting, weaving, embroidery and related skills were part of everyday life for most people over centuries, and still remain so for many, for work or personal passion.

It’s no surprise, then that our language is so embroidered with phrases referencing textiles and fabrics, and they are so knitted into our ways of expressing ourselves, you may say, that they are hard to avoid.

Textile-related sayings

We embroider the truth when we try to make something more interesting by adding details which may be untrue.

We attempt to weave lies but get caught out. Sir Walter Scott, from his 1808 poem Marmion:
Oh, what a tangled web we weave When first we practice to deceive.

Fag end has nothing to do with smoking. In the textiles trade, the last part of the piece of cloth was made of coarser material than the rest and left hanging loose. It came to be known as the fag end, possibly as a corruption of flag, meaning hang down.

Tent The name of a portable shelter supported by poles or a frame came from the Latin tenta/tentus/tendere - to extend or stretch, through Old French, and 13th century Middle English tente, when it usually referred to stretched animal skins.

Tender hooks The phrase on tenter hooks derives from the 14th century term for a wooden frame where wet clothes were hung out to dry. Now we use the term when we feel our nerves are being stretched beyond endurance: today the phrase is often said as on tender hooks.

Glad rags Best party clothes. This term for dressing up in our finest is not new. Glad is a word that seeped into the English language through several sources, including Old English glæd (bright, shining, pleasant) and Old Saxon gladmod (cheerful). Glad used to mean more being more splendidly happy and radiant with joy than it does in today’s definition of being moderately pleased. It is first recorded as referring to a smashing outfit in 1902. There are other slang meanings, such reusable material for periods and cloths used to wipe down after sex!

Clobber In the 19th century, clobber was a dark, mud-like paste used to cover the breaks in leather of old shoes, possibly from the Gaelic clabar (mud). Dressing your best was clobbering up - to patch old clothes to cover up defects. Clobber was recorded as British Air Force slang meaning clothes and personal effects in 1941.

Other everyday words and phrases speak of past practices

Milliner - hatmaker Milan in Italy used to be famous for its manufacture of fancy goods, which Milaners or travelling salesmen took all over Europe. Eventually, the term became specific to those who sold hats and then those who made them, whether they came from Milan or not.

(In) fine fettle In good health or good condition. Fetel is an Old English word for girdle or belt, so when you were dressed in your best clothes and belt, you were in fine fetel. From there, the word developed an association with tidying up other things, such as cleaning off stray fragments that stuck to iron castings or china mouldings. When the process was finished, the piece had been fettled.

Textiles are also woven into the language in more metaphorical ways

Subtle is from the Latin sub (under, below), and tela (delicate tissue, web-like structure): beneath the threads on a loom, meaning finely woven. The modern meaning of subtle as clever and indirect is perfectly described as a delicately complicated and understated web of meanings.

Text is from the Latin past participle of texere, meaning to weave, join, fit together, interweave. The concept of text as interwoven ideas, thoughts, nuances and meanings, creates a beautiful and insightful definition, as so much of what we say and write communicates at those layers of meanings that make up the fabric of language.

And more cat-agorical ways

Tabby cat In the 14th century there was a textile manufacturing suburb of Baghdad, al-‘Attābīya, named after Prince Attāb. The cloth made there was known as attābī and the term passed via Old French atabis and modern French tabis into English as tabby. This originally denoted a sort of rich silk taffeta.

This day put on my false tabby waistcoat with gold lace, Samuel Pepys diary, 13 October 1661.

Since the cloth was usually striped, by the 1660s the word was being applied to brindled cats - brownish or tawny with streaks of other colours. And so tabby cats were so-called because they looked like they were wearing silk waistcoats.

English sleeved silk waistcoat 1676-1699, Museum of London catalogue, 'Men's Costume, 1580-1750', Cat. No. 28. In time, waistcoats got shorter and became sleeveless.

Jeff the tabby cat 2018

Some textile-based terms have spread into wider use, with poor quality associated with lack of morality or low principle

Shoddy is cloth spun from left over and shredded fabric. Made from short staple yarn, the fabric is cheap, weak and poor quality. Now of course, the term shoddy can be used for any inferior item or practice.

Old Rags into New Cloth - Salvage in Britain, April 1942 A textile worker rakes newly-made ‘shoddy’ out of the “blow ‘ole” (the receiving chamber of the rag grinding machine) at this factory somewhere in Britain. The shoddy will be combined with new wool to produce new cloth. Image Imperial War Museum © IWM (D 7447)

Sleazy is a loosely woven cloth, such as cheesecloth. Cheesecloth is also by definition a shoddy cloth. So a cheesecloth dress is thin, flimsy and poor quality, and sleazy of course. Further connotations of sleazy meaning disreputable, low and contemptible come from this original definition of poor quality. Sleazy did not take on a sense of seediness, corruption and immorality until the 1940s.

Tawdry In the 17th century tawdry was developed as a shortened form of tawdry lace or St Audrey’s lace, a necktie or ribbon which was sold annually at Ely fair. Tawdry eventually lost its original sense and developed an association with the showy and sordid.

Seamy Now more used in the term seamy sex scandal, seamy once referred to clothing that had the rough edges of its seams visible, and is now tabloid code for sordid or disreputable.

Drab was a natural, undyed cloth but gained another meaning since the late nineteenth century: a dirty, untidy woman or prostitute. Now of course, drab is anything plain, colourless or boring.

Cockney language

This article accompanies the Bow Arts research and exhibition project Raw Materials: Textiles which traces the textile heritage of the East End, which roughly corresponds with the Cockney area. Every place on Earth has its area-specific language, references and slang, and the Cockney slang is a wonderfully rich mixture of terms and jokes, Yiddish and other influences, and the intricacies of rhyming slang.

In the densely populated East End, of the early 19th century, in the fast-paced growth of the city during the industrial revolution, it was said that rhyming slang evolved from codes used amongst thieves so that law enforcers would not understand them, and other codes used within trades and business. Partly they were ways of speaking which deliberately excluded outsiders, whether the police or Peelers, or unsuspecting customers in the market place. Crucially, in rhyming slang, the rhyme is inferred but not said, unless explained to non-Cockneys, so a suit is a whistle, meaning whistle and flute: Nice whistle, mate!

Whistle – suit However, these rhymes didn’t come about without meaning just because they rhymed, but evolved through interweaving other sayings and references, some of which may be traced and unravelled, although much of this language was not written down - it’s a marvellously inventive and still evolving language. Whistle and flute is thought to refer to the phrase - clean as a whistle, because steam train whistles needed to be kept clean of grime in order to work. A suit was a Sunday-best type of clothing supposedly kept cleaner than other clothes, therefore: clean as a whistle, whistle and flute, suit.

Weasel – coat The nursery rhyme Pop goes the weasel is based on Cockney rhyming slang - weasel and stoat - coat

Up and down the City Road In and out the Eagle, That’s the way the money goes, Pop! Goes the weasel.

It's fairly well-known that the Eagle is a still-existing pub on City Road, and the ne’er-do-well of the rhyme was constantly having to pop his weasel - pawn his coat, in order to fund drinking there - a common practice for the poor in early 19th century London. However, in cloth making, the machine that wound the yarn was called the weasel. Every 80 yards of yarn, or 40th revolution, the machine made a popping sound to tell the spinner that the skein was completed. This witty blending of meanings is typical of the imaginative weaving together of phrases in Cockney rhyming slang.

Eagle Tavern, City Road. Print by T. Bowyer and John Shury, 1841. The Eagle Tavern stood on the corner of City Road and Shepherdess Walk. It was formerly a tea garden but became an early music hall in 1825 and features in Dickens' Sketches by Boz. It was sold in 1883 to the Salvation Army, and later demolished in 1901. © Museum of London.

The Eagle, now on the site of the old Eagle Tavern

Uncle Bert – shirt I’ve got to iron my Uncle.

Uncle meant a pawnbroker (although there are plenty of other meanings for Uncle). Bert meant either an impressive and popular fellow, or an attractive guy: Wow! That guy is such a Bert!

It’s hard to establish the earliest use of Bert in the shirt context - suggestions range from reference to Bertie - King Edward VII, to Dick Van Dyke’s mockney Bert from the film Mary Poppins, both of which would make the term 20th century. A shirt anyway is still an everyday smart item. Bert can also stand in for any temporarily forgotten noun, much like thingumajig, or to replace a noun when you don’t want someone else to know what you’re talking about. Pass me over that bert quick before she sees it!

Uncle Bertie adjective meaning angry, especially if only temporarily, or characteristically ill- tempered. Extended from Uncle Bert – shirt: What are you getting all Uncle Bertie about?
At any rate, Cockney rhyming slang is an ever-evolving language which continues to absorb references from popular culture, and to spread its phrases into everyday language used far from the original Bow Bells, and to suggest otherwise would be to tell porkie pies.

Textile-related place names in the East End

Cable Street mural

Cable Street The scene of the famous Battle of Cable Street, 1936, where the locals stood up to Oswald Mosley and his fascists, Cable Street is a long road, originally named because it was a straight path along which hemp ropes were laid out and twisted into full-length shipping cables.

Petticoat Lane A petticoat was originally a little coat - pety coote, the padded coat worn by men under armour, only later describing the underskirt worn by women. In the 15th century the area was where second-hand clothes and bric-a-brac were traded. By the 17th century incoming Huguenots established weaving and dyeing industries, and the fields all around were tentergrounds, where cloth was stretched out to dry. Despite being renamed Middlesex Street in 1830, the area is still known as Petticoat Lane and is still the site of a clothing and bric-a-brac market.

Petticoat Lane Market, 1975

Once the seams of words and phrases are unpicked, metaphors and references begin to spill out and unravel, and so often these are related to textiles, to clothing, and working with fabrics.


Copley, J. (1961). Shift of meaning. London: Oxford University Press.
Ekwall, E. (1954). Street names of the City of London. Oxford: Clarendon Press
Macdonald, A. M. (1956). Chambers's Etymological English Dictionary. Edinburgh; London: W. & R. Chambers, Limited.
Museum of London online archive: https://www.museumoflondon.org.uk/collections
Scott, W. (1810). Marmion: A Tale of Flodden Field: Edinburgh: Printed by J. Ballantyne and Co. For Archibald Constable and Company, Edinburgh; and William Miller, and John Murray, London, 1808.
V&A online archive: https://collections.vam.ac.uk/
1000 English Idioms Explained (English Language). (2008). UK: Foulsham & Co. Ltd.

Eleanor MacFarlane, April 2018, first published Bow Arts

28 August 2018

Raw Materials - Textiles Heritage in the Lea Valley

I was involved as researcher/ steering group in this fascinating project which culminated in an exhibition.


The invention of purple by Victorian teenage genius in Cable Street

William Perkin

William Perkin was 18 when he accidentally produced a substance with an intense purple colour - mauveine - the first synthetic dye.

William Perkin was a teenage prodigy – a student and assistant at the Royal College of Chemistry, now Imperial College. He had a makeshift laboratory in his family home in Cable Street east London, and it was here, when he was just 18, that Perkin accidentally invented the first synthetic dye in 1856. He had been working on making a substitute for quinine, an expensive natural substance used in the treatment of malaria, when he discovered that a compound he had been using, aniline, produced an intense purple colour when extracted with alcohol. History does not record the smells coming from the young Perkin’s room, but aniline has the strong odour of rotting fish.

Until Perkin’s discovery, all cloths and material were dyed using natural substances – sometimes these were expensive and required long processes. Purple was especially costly and laborious, made from the glandular secretions of certain molluscs. Extracting this mucus from sea snails involved tens of thousands of creatures and substantial labour, and as a result, the dye was highly valued. Purple’s elite status grew from its rarity and costliness. Through the centuries purple has been associated with royalty, with laws about who could wear it – Elizabeth I forbade it for anyone except immediate members of the royal family.

By Perkin’s time in Victorian London, purple was still a colour associated with wealth and privilege due to its high cost. Colours often lacked stability and fastness, and so would fade easily, but William’s new purple substance did not fade. William recognised the commercial potential of his discovery, and worked with his brother Thomas and friend Arthur Church in developing it into a dye for silk which he called mauveine.

Perkin patented the dye and set to work in adapting it for use with cotton, setting up manufacturing in the Greenford area, and promoting the novel idea of synthetic dye, an entire industry which started in his room in Cable Street.

Website pin written for Bow Arts Raw Materials project

Meldola’s Blue - a new way to dye in Hackney Wick in 1878

Scientist Raphael Meldola discovered synthetic dye Meldola’s Blue in 1878 at Atlas Works, Hackney Wick, but neglected to take out the patent.

Raphael Meldola (1849-1915) was the grandson of the Chief Rabbi of London during the early 19th century and a friend of the evolutionist Charles Darwin. He was one of those all-round scientists, still possible in the Victorian age, with interests and publications in chemistry, natural history, anthropology, evolution, astronomy, photography and technical and scientific education. Meldola made his living as a chemist, and had some particularly fruitful years as ‘scientific chemist’ at Atlas Colour Works, Hackney Wick, for the firm of Brooke, Simpson and Spiller.

Colour drove the industrial field of chemistry at the time, and the making of synthetic dyes was the first science-based industry. Meldola was given free reign at Atlas to explore and publish research, and during this exploration he discovered Meldola’s Blue, the first oxazine dye. This was a significant finding as there was a growing commercial appetite to find stable chemical processes to produce colour for cloth that could replace the natural substances used until that point.

Despite the enormous commercial potential of this innovation, Meldola published the process for Meldola’s blue in 1878 without he or the firm having taken out a patent. German chemists later developed the colour for cotton and produced the dye. Meldola’s firm, however, did take out a patent on his discovery of the first alkali green, which they exhibited at the Paris Exhibition in 1878 under the name of viridine.

Many people lived close to the factories around Hackney Wick. Six thousand people lived there in 1879, in cramped housing built on top of rubbish tips. The nearby River Lea was horribly polluted from all the chemicals the factories tipped into it, including, presumably, Atlas Works.

Website pin written for Bow Arts Raw Materials project

29 January 2018

Investigating objects, meanings and associations: A comparison between artists and non-artists - a summary

This research study was my final project for the Msc psychology, University of Hertfordshire, 2017

I asked artists and non-artists to participate in a study to find out if they understood objects differently, if that was measurable, and what any differences might mean in terms of art. The most significant finding was that artists tend to refer to their own memories, or think up a story, when they are deciding what an ambiguous object is, whereas non-artists don’t. This means that when artists look at or present those ambiguous objects which are artworks, they are already thinking in different ways to non-artists. If artists and curators want viewers to see and understand their work fully, they could provide titles, narratives and ways that viewers can personally relate to art.

Artists are a relatively under-researched demographic in psychology. Artist training usually includes the art crit - critique sessions where student artists debate the intrinsic and implied properties of objects and concepts, and artists typically continue similar critique throughout professional practice, suggesting that as individuals, artists may have an atypical approach to concept formation which could be compared to non-artists. A group of 30 adult professional artists was compared to a group of 30 adult non-artists in a series of tasks and trials. Everyone who participated completed the same tasks in the same order, under similar conditions and with the same instructions, so that results could be compared.


My supervisor, Sue Anthony, remembers our first meeting as me plonking down the paper/brick/box object on the table and stating that artists would immediately be able to tell me all sorts of implied narratives about it. I remember that meeting rather differently, but Sue and I ended up spending many hours over the next few months thrashing out how we know what things are when we look at them, and how anything means more than its constituent parts.

When I first started studying psychology, I was rather excited about the bit where we would get around to creativity, what it is and what its mechanisms are thought to be. I’ve always loved that part of art practice - analysis of the self and the impulse to make things, and how we think we are imbuing objects and images with meanings and implications. Well, I was rather disappointed that my Msc didn’t really cover that until I could devise my final project.

I’d never been very convinced by the measures that attempt to quantify creativity by how many uses for a thing, like a brick or some wire, a person can think up: a doorstop, a pair of earrings, a weapon, and so on. Yes, it’s some sort of test of some sort of creativity, but I had anecdotal and instinctive reasons to think that conversely, artists may tend to limit themselves in their thinking, away from squandering thought in endless variety, to choosing a few and then thinking more deeply about them. Artists tend to specialise, to have recurring themes and imagery, to reiterate the same train of thought in new ways, rather than have a scattergun approach. Perhaps an artist could think up more uses for the brick - it may or may not tell us something. I am more interested in the depth of creativity rather than its width.

Sue Anthony is a specialist in the wonderful mechanisms by which we know what a thing is when we look at it, even though we may never have seen that particular object before. Once it’s broken down, it’s a wonderfully complex process, applicable to myriad applications in science -  psychology, cognition, semantics, and in art - curation, fine art practice and education.

Background - categories
Concept formation and how we know what things are even if we have not seen them before. Categorisation is the process by which we recognise and understand objects, and how concepts are grouped together in our understanding. A concept is a general term used to group together objects, events or ideas. Concepts typically have a set of defining ideas, and probabilistic concepts define the concept in terms of features likely to be found, for example, the concept of tree might include such features as having branches and green leaves, but not every tree has all these features. When we see a novel object, we make predictions about it through features and similarities it shares with already familiar concepts and categories, and so we know it by grouping it together with similar types of things. This study investigated the relationship between concepts, objects and categories, and how people form a concept about objects so that they decide which category it belongs in.

Framework of psychology tests
To make my study measurable in the context of other psychology research, I adapted and devised new formations of existing scientific experiments and more real-life handling of objects.

Quantitative and qualitative research
Quantitative - measurements and statistics. Qualitative - understanding reasons and motivations.
There is a paradox inherent in measuring human behaviour - quantitative research deals in statistical analysis - the numbers. Qualitative research can be just as rigorous and precise, but deals in the more subjective area of decoding meaning. One without the other is meaningless or mere speculation, and so methodology that combines both methods is preferable to me, especially in the realms of art research.

Group size, demographic, artist criteria
Numbers of participants in which to get a significant result, statistical norms.                     
Studying psychology gave me an appreciation of statistical analysis. I didn’t exactly take to statistics like a duck to water, but I could follow the logic of scientific research methods. Two groups of thirty participants is a large enough group for any comparative differences to be statistically significant and not by chance. I matched the groups of participants as evenly as possible for age, gender and educational background. Artists were defined by criteria borrowed from AN The Artists Information Company, and AUE Artists Union England - both professional artists organisations which give several criteria for memberships such as having a visual arts degree, exhibiting publicly and participating in residencies. Artists, then, were defined not by having or commenting upon any artistic tendency or appreciation, but by measurable professional training and experience of the art crit.

The study included a measure of individual tolerance for ambiguity (McLain 1993), as ambiguity is a key component in looking at artworks, and decoding the meaning of objects. The study also went further in investigating ambiguity, by presenting deliberately ambiguous choices in the object triad tasks, and by measuring how difficult it was to make those choices. There was an expectation that artists and non-artists would respond differently, with artists more accustomed to contemplating ambiguous properties through their art crit practice.
Ambiguity is clearly an essential component in art, layered in different ways by various artists. An object in a frame or on a plinth implies that is it art and that it represents something. Even the most photo-realist art is always a representation of a way of seeing - we do not even see our surroundings as clearly as photography. We really see in a sequence of moments, some of which are blurred of focussed, or implied, and all subject to our own understanding. The more abstract art becomes, the less it looks like categories of things we already know. What does red mean? What does a shadow say? Or a line, or a splash?

Triad tests - established scientific method   
In a triad of one key and two choices, the choice reveals tendencies in how objects and concepts are understood. I used triads from Linn and Murphy, 2001. For example, in the triad Sapphire, Ring, Emerald - for the key Sapphire, Ring is the thematic choice as it is linked to Sapphire only by a narrative association, and Emerald is the taxonomic choice as it shares some gemstone properties with Sapphire. These triads are usually given on paper but I decided to make them into a cards task to prime my participants towards handling objects, and to familiarise them with the format of choosing one to match the key, so they would know what to do with the later ambiguous choices. Participants gave their choice without being asked for their reasons in this task, but were asked to explain their choices in the later object triads.

Thematic - themes, narrative, meanings. Taxonomic - properties
It’s thought that participants’ choices reveal their tendency to think about objects in certain ways - thematically - creating categories by narrative, or taxonomically - creating categories by properties. In the cards triad task, a score of 14 or more choices out of 20 indicates that is not by chance.

Thematic (score 14 or more): all participants 24(40%), artists 9(30%), non-artists 15(50%)
Taxonomic (score 14 or more): all participants 2(3%), artists 2(7%), non-artists 0(0%)
No tendency (score less than 14): all participants 34(40%), artists 19(63%), non-artists 15(50%)
The art crit is central to art training, where art is discussed and debated thematically and taxonomically. In other words, artists go through group critiques, explaining to others what they are doing and what they intend it to mean, while fellow students and tutors challenge and suggest alternatives. It can be harsh criticism and yet enlightening. It’s part of the training allowing artists to deepen understanding of their own work, and to show it without feeling personally exposed.

Object triad: Cow Milk Lemonade
The first object triad choice was Cow Milk Lemonade, a Linn and Murphy triad presented in the study as objects which were given to the participants to handle. The key is Milk, and the choice Milk and Cow indicated a thematic choice, where the link is through a narrative, whereas Milk and Lemonade is taxonomic, as the two share properties - liquid, drinks, glass, bottles. There are no shared properties between the small plastic cow, and a miniature bottle (seemingly) of milk.

Results: Cow Milk Lemonade

Milk Cow: all participants 44(73%), artists 24(80%), non-artists 20(66%)  
Artist - Eh, colour. Form. Milk. Eh, milk bottles, dairy, herds. This, this one's all citric and would make milk go funny, but they're both in bottles and you can drink, so this one, the cow, they just look right together. They're both really pleasing, they’ve both got sort of white, solid, thing. Monotone. Em, they're both charming things I would put in my studio.
Non-artist - It's the bottle of milk, so it's the milk associated with the cow rather than the other bottle. So it's what's inside the bottle rather than, the bottle, the fact of the bottle itself. Also, lemon juice would tend to curdle milk, so I would tend to think that you would not have these things together unless you wanted something else.

Milk Lemonade: all participants 16(27%), artists 6(20%), non-artists 10(33%)   
Artist - Because I like the arrangement, of the bottle with the lemon, in the rectangle. I think it's very pleasing.
Non-artist - I think, I think maybe if it was different drinks I would categorise them together, but I'm thinking it's obviously cow comes from milk but I think it's connotations in my head of the milk, and lemonade would be in different places in a shop.

Objects triad: Brick Paper Box
The second object triad was Brick Paper Box, and the key was Box. If you have participated in the study, you will already know that the Box was light and made of paper, shaped like a small brick and printed with small-scale brick walls. The Brick was not a full brick, but clearly part of one, and Paper, was a small lined notebook without a cover. The thematic and taxonomic choices, then, were not so clear - Box and Paper shared properties of paper, and the lines referred to lines of the brick images, however, Box inferred links to bricks and walls, creating narrative links to Brick. These and other complex overlapping properties made this triad choice deliberately ambiguous, and so the choice and reasons for choosing revealed much more about how participants think about and categorise objects.

Results: Box Paper Brick

Box Brick: all participants 44(70%), artists 18(60%), non-artists 24(80%)      
Artist - This one. The brick, Because I like the juxtaposition of the forms. They're very different. I like the, this, brick, I don't know, what is brick made out of? (Clay, I think) It's rather lovely isn't it. Yeah, the clay, with the paper. I like it. So the contrast between the clay, and the paper, and the shapes, I like too, the contrast in the shapes. 
Non-artist - Because that represents a brick wall, and, that is a component of them. I don't think I'd associate that (the paper) with it at all actually.

Box Paper: all participants 18(30%), artists 12(40%), non-artists 6(20%)                          
Artist - Doesn't look like brick to me, 'cause it consists of bricks. It's a little, oh, it's the box, made of a bricks surface, oh, interesting. It's a mausoleum! I've no idea what you gave me in the first place. So these, as the potential, it's these really, because this is how I keep knowledge, or you know it's something that is able to contain information, because of that ability to contain information.                   
Non-artist - The brick has associations, but the notebook is cuboid with straight lines.

Variety of responses
It was so interesting how many people indicated their object choice by saying something like:
Oh, I’ll just go for the obvious one.
There were too many responses and types of responses to reflect here. They are reported in full in my project paper, and are a great resource of interesting and enlightening reactions. There were other findings, results and responses from this study to be written about, made into articles, and which suggest further development and related research.

Uncertain object 

I found this object near my home at the beginnings of my discussions with Sue. When I saw it, I immediately understood it as some marvellous solid painting, and a three-dimensional manifestation of impressionism. It reminded of the image for the Monet exhibition, which I had happened to keep from the previous year. When I dug out the leaflet and saw it with the roller, the colours, forms and markings were outstandingly similar. I did not see that the object was originally a roller for some time, and thought it was some sort of seaside driftwood. So for myself, this was a truly ambiguous object, at once both art and natural. Sue called it an uncertain object. In psychological terms, that made a great platform to consider why people understand things differently, to trace through those cognitive processes, and to design a study which could present ambiguity to any participant while asking the same question.

Not immediately obvious, I presented this uncertain object and asked participants what they thought it was. Out of the 60, 3 participants recognised that this was an old paint roller.

Artist - So, the two things that stand out are, one, it could be quite poo-like. And the second one is it looks like a big stick of ganja. And I instantly made up a story of how it's ganja, and how it's smuggled, you know, and I've got the whole script written already in my head.
Non-artist - I think it's some kind of seaweed. It might be some kind of shell. It might actually be some kind of real sponge. I mean, I thought it was a courgette.

Objects triad: Roller Handle Monet
Presenting the other two choices to the Roller key, the Handle and the Monet exhibition leaflet, made it obvious to (almost) everyone what the Roller was. Both Handle and Monet have thematic and narrative implications relating to the roller, making this a task of a different sort of ambiguity to the Box Brick Paper triad. Again, the reasons for choices provided more clues as to how people decode the meanings of objects.

Results: Roller Handle Monet

Roller Monet: all participants 38(65%), artists 17(57%), non-artists 21(70%)    
Artist - I'm going to have to go with the painting of the modern garden. It's a very interesting one. Partly because of, just visually, the correlation between, Monet's water lilies and the flowers, which have the same colours as the bits of plastic inside what I consider to be a giant mouse poo, eh, now I can clearly see is actually probably a very well used paint roller, ah, or misused paint roller. Em, but you're more likely to find a giant mouse in painting of the modern garden, than in a paint roller.  Non-artist - Em, It has the same colours, this is like a ... I guess they could both be like arty representations of the same, em, pondy thing, I think it is. So it makes more sense than the roller.

Roller Handle: all participants 22(35%), artists 13(43%), non-artists 9(30%)         
Artist - Hmm I think these are clearly two bits of the same thing now I look at them, 'cause I'd already noticed there was that little red end, which means that that goes in there, so I suppose I'd categorise those two together 'cause they're part of the same, overall object. Although that is the same colour as that, and that, and it has got some nice red in it, hasn't it? No. I'm going that way – (indicates handle).
Non-artist - Eh, this explains this. So this is obviously a hardened, eh, em, a, a once used, eh, roller, paint roller. So that explains it. Eh, this would be, eh, probably used for painting, perhaps. But this is a more direct association. Or practical association.

Reasons and coding
I coded all the responses into related categories, so all the poo-related comments were collated, as were the food, manufactured, stone references and so on. It was during this coding stage that unexpected themes emerged - the differences in whether participants thought the roller was naturally formed or artificially made - the majority of non-artists thought the roller was natural - some poo, mouldy food or sea-side related, while artists mostly thought it was artificial - either made to look the way it did deliberately, or as a consequence of some other manufacturing process.

Ambiguity results
There were various measures for ambiguity during the study. My own expectation was that artists would be more comfortable with higher levels of ambiguity, and that this would mean making a choice, and thus lessening the ambiguity, would be more difficult because they would prefer the ambiguity. This was somewhat evident in the results.

Thematic and taxonomic results - differences between artists and non-artists?
If thematic is what it means, and taxonomic is what it is, then the combination somewhat defines the elements of art. In some ways, I expected artists to be both more thematic and more taxonomic, as the art crit encourages focussed analysis on both aspects. This study was innovative in several ways, one of which was asking for and coding the reasons for triad choices. Many responses in the study demonstrated that people gave more than one association, at times several associations, and a variety of thematic, taxonomic and narrative reasons for their decisions. This complexity would seem to more realistically represent concept formation than simply recording the choice without further explanations. Results showed that artists had a more taxonomic tendency but used a thematic associations strategy - narrative or memory - when making an ambiguous decision. Artists were more analytical and more likely to understand that a novel object was constructed.

Future research
Future research may look at an integrated model of category formation which includes reasons, associations and indicators given to explain triad choices. Category depends on prediction, and this study points towards a model where category concepts are formed by an interaction of strategies and associations. It would be fascinating to continue this study comparing different groups with the artists rather than a general population - scientists, writers, and so on, or to further subdivide the artists into painter, sculptors, etc.

Research applications
This research is applicable to several fields - as a contribution to the psychological study of category formations and to research in creativity, art practice and education. There are implications in the presentation and curation of art - if artists are making a set of assumptions not shared by non-artists, then different approaches and communication can bridge this gap. Many artists are interested in reflective practice, and in education, this insight can filter through, right into the fulcrum of professional art practice - the art crit.

Comparing any groups can give insight to the field of concept formation and creative thinking. Results from specific groups gives more insight into the overall cognitive processes of concept categorisation, or how we know what things are. Furthermore, several of the innovative scientific methods this study employed in this study: the structured and scripted interview, the handling of objects, the use of ambiguous and uncertain objects, and the analysis of reasons and meanings, contribute to possible methodologies.

Art and psychology research, personal and thanks
Metacognition is thinking about thinking, an awareness which is fostered in art practice. For my own practice, this project allowed me to search deeply into the core of my thinking and make new discoveries. Although I had to become a very part-time artist while studying psychology, it felt like a long but essential way round to go to where I want to be as an artist/writer/researcher. This study was clearly within the realms of psychology, and my interest is in creativity and fine art, however I believe the crossover of disciplines tends to be very fruitful.

I’m very grateful to all my participants who so kindly gave me their time and thoughts. Many sessions developed into fascinating conversations that I hope to continue. I’d also like to thank my family for their endless support, my tutors and fellow students at Hertfordshire for an enjoyable and challenging two years, and Dr Sue Anthony for inspiring and fascinating supervision of my project.

About - I am an artist, writer and researcher. I make moving image and sound, and often set up projects through my popup theViewergallery. I have an BA (Middlesex) and MA (Open College of the Arts) in fine art, and an Msc in psychology (Hertfordshire). I also work as an academic mentor and arts mentor.

Eleanor MacFarlane 2018