The Mona Lisa is located in the Louvre Museum, which holds more than 14,000 works of art, 215 of which are paintings.
According to the "Mere Exposure Effect," the popularity of such paintings could be simply due to quantity of views over each piece's overarching quality.
Margaret Moore, Ph.D, a lecturer in the department of philosophy, investigated this effect in a follow-up to an experiment by James Cutting when she was a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Leeds.
"The Mere Exposure Effect is a well-known effect in psychology," Moore said. "It has been studied over many decades and shown to work for many different sorts of topics. It basically says that the more you're exposed to something, the more you become to be favorable towards that thing."
According to Moore, James Cutting thought that the Mere Exposure Effect applied to art, and what the audience perceives to be the "best" art is really just pieces of art that have been widely circulated. In his experiment, he exposed his undergraduate students to impressionist paintings that were not well known, such as certain pieces from Monet.
At the end of the semester, he asked those polled to rate the art. The art that students had been exposed to was rated higher than the art they had not been exposed to, suggesting that the preference of art could be manipulated by exposure.
"The question is how far does this go?" Moore asked. "The paintings he used, all of them, were good artworks. If we were exposed to 'bad' artworks, would we come to like those more as well?"
While this experiment may seem to suggest that there is no real quality in art, Moore rejects that notion.
She approached the experiment with the idea that the students liked the works more at the end of the semester because they were good, and as time went on they noticed more of the good aspects of the art. Therefore, if the students were exposed to bad art, they slowly begin to like them less.
With this in mind, James Cutting's experiment was reproduced using bad art. Specifically, the works of Thomas Kinkade.
"People might question, how do we know this is bad art? Isn't that what's an issue? These are different paintings, and the response to them is different," Moore said. "It doesn't produce the increase in liking, like the Monets did, but a decrease. One reason for this is quality."
In her Aesthetics 300 class to be taught again in the spring, Moore often talks about the value in art. While doing so, she consults "The Standard Of Taste" by David Hume. When she teaches this article, she brings up the experiment and gives students a copy of the article.
Richie Whitehead, senior in philosophy, remembers this section in Moore's Aesthetics 300 class.
When asked what he found most interesting, he emphasized the importance of frequent exposure.
"The phrase 'acquired taste' comes to mind," Whitehead said. "If maturer artistic works take time to appreciate, then repeated exposures will reveal new things to like. Though her experiment was done with paintings, I think a corollary holds even truer for writing: great books reward repeat readings, whereas most things published, from the perspective of the individual, are worth, at most, one read through."
For more information on Moore and Cutting's research, see Moore's article in Oxford University Press' blog.