History of art paintings through the lens of entropy and complexity


Art is the ultimate expression of human creativity that is deeply influenced by the philosophy and culture of the corresponding historical epoch. The quantitative analysis of art is therefore essential for better understanding human cultural evolution.

Here, we present a large-scale quantitative analysis of almost 140,000 paintings, spanning nearly a millennium of art history. Based on the local spatial patterns in the images of these paintings, we estimate the permutation entropy and the statistical complexity of each painting. These measures map the degree of visual order of artworks into a scale of order–disorder and simplicity–complexity that locally reflects qualitative categories proposed by art historians. The dynamical behavior of these measures reveals a clear temporal evolution of art, marked by transitions that agree with the main historical periods of art.

Our research shows that different artistic styles have a distinct average degree of entropy and complexity, thus allowing a hierarchical organization and clustering of styles according to these metrics. We have further verified that the identified groups correspond well with the textual content used to qualitatively describe the styles and the applied complexity–entropy measures can be used for an effective classification of artworks.


H. Sigaki, M. Perc, H. Ribeiro, History of art paintings through the lens of entropy and complexity, PNAS (2018) 201800083