While artist elephants and orangutans have made headlines over the past century, it is now honey bees who are making headlines for having the critical eyes to differentiate between works done by Picasso and those done by Monet. In a study done by researcher Dr. Judith Reinhard at the The Queensland Brain Institute (QBI) at The University of Queensland Australia (UQ) she found that,
honeybees had a highly developed capacity for processing complex visual information, and could distinguish landscape scenes, types of flowers, and even human faces…[the study] found honeybees had remarkable visual learning and discrimination abilities that extended beyond simple colours, shapes or patterns.
Dr. Reinhard’s study used five different paintings by Picasso and Monet to train the bees and then offered them novel pairs of works to determine if the bees could single out works by the specific artists. The eighteen examples were the same works used by Japanese researchers Shigeru Watanabe, Junko Sakamoto, and Masumi Wakita in 1995 to determine whether pigeons could differentiate between Picasso and Monet. The study found that this was indeed the case,
Pigeons successfully learned to discriminate color slides of paintings by Monet and Picasso. Following this training, they discriminated novel paintings by Monet and Picasso that had never been presented during the discrimination training. Furthermore, they showed generalization from Monet’s to Cezanne’s and Renoir’s paintings or from Picasso’s to Braque’s and Matisse’s paintings. These results suggest that pigeons’ behavior can be controlled by complex visual stimuli in ways that suggest categorization. Upside-down images of Monet’s paintings disrupted the discrimination, whereas inverted images of Picasso’s did not. This result may indicate that the pigeons’ behavior was controlled by objects depicted in impressionists’ paintings but was not controlled by objects in cubists’ paintings.
It important to note the importance of inverted images because it appears that images use by Dr. Reinhard’s team were indeed inverted. While the bees may have gotten it right, it appears that the connoisseurship of the human scientists may have been a little off the mark.
Monet’s work used to train the bees was both severely cropped and inverted which can be the facial recognition equivalent of inverting a face and chopping off an eye and both ears. Also a discriminating art historian may argue that the painting Garden at Sainte-Adresse done in 1867 was not technically one of Monet’s “Impressionist Paintings” as the study indicates as most will agree that Monet’s true Impressionist paintings started in the early 1870s with his Impression, Sunrise painting of 1872 that was included in an exhibition of 1874 which drew the derisive review of being “The Exhibition of Impressionists”, however please do not tell the bees as they are not terribly reasonanble when angry.