When, why and how are individuals moved by a piece of art in a museum or gallery? How can art change people’s lives? Anthropologist Sandra Dudley, and neuroscientist Rodrigo Quian Quiroga will develop a new, interdisciplinary approach to the perception of gallery art according to a press release.
The anthropologist explains:
What we’re studying is a basic level of human experience of the material and visual world. It doesn’t always happen that an individual will feel the wow factor when they look at a piece of art in a museum, but it does happen sometimes. What causes that? Why does certain art appeal to certain people? What lasting impact does it have on their lives?
(The study) will inform how galleries are laid out, how art is contextualised. Potentially, there are big implications in how this research may change practice.
Rodrigo Quian Quiroga adds:
It will be interesting from a scientific angle too. What makes people interested in a particular piece of art in a gallery? Is it lighting? The surrounding environment? Previous information? How will they explore this art, or will they just pass by and miss it? For me, from a neuroscience point of view, this is very interesting.
The two researchers work together with the Art Fund. Director David Barrie says:
The Art Fund firmly believes that art can really change people’s lives: that’s at the heart of everything we do. But it’s very hard to prove. My hope is that this pioneering piece of work will be the start of a much wider programme of research which will, over time, help us to understand just how art can exercise its power over us. Maybe then it won’t be so hard to persuade our political leaders to invest in it!
Dudley’s research has previously led her to spend a year in a jungle refugee camp on the Thai-Burma border:
It may sound a long way from gallery art, but my work there shares the same focus on human experience of, and aesthetic response to, the material world.
Quian Quiroga is known for his research on how the brain responds to images.
The project will combine participant observation and interviews with the use of an eye tracker. Quian Quiroga explaines:
When you look at something, you don’t see it as a whole. Your eyes are continually moving, gazing at a tiny portion of the visual field, and the picture is reconstructed in your brain. From the eye tracker we can infer exactly what you’re looking at. Then we can reconstruct the signal and see exactly how people look at different pieces of art.
The research project is part of the ‘Beyond Text’ initiative by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.