I Noticed You Checking Out Those Brush Strokes

CityLab had an article about an art museum in Bologna, Italy which is using eye tracking to learn how visitors interact with works on display. In the process, the museum has learned unexpected things about their visitors.

Let me just get this out of the way and say that my cynical mind immediately saw this technology becoming the basis to optimize attendance, sales, and ultimately what sort of art gets created based on what seems most popular.

This being said, the technology can also provide feedback and opportunity to better inform, engage and lower barriers for visitors. Or perhaps, as suggested in the last paragraph below, curators may find that visitors don’t value the same things they do.

Part of me would be curious to see if they put this technology up in some place like the Louvre, are there works no one suspected was getting attention as people made their way to and from the Mona Lisa. Does something catch people’s eye that makes them pause a moment? Is there a minor, but significant flow, to other galleries that no one had observed?

Some of the researchers’ findings have been unexpected. Examining observer data from the two sides of a 14th-century diptych by Vitale degli Equi, data showed that “attention was immediately attracted to the ‘busier’ representation of Saint Peter’s blessing, to the right,” said Bologna Musei President Roberto Grandi. He was surprised to find that many visitors simply skipped the diptych’s left half.

The data could lead to changes in lighting, staging and placement of artworks in relation to one another, Grandi said, with findings suggesting that museums and galleries might want to rethink how to make some paintings and sculptures more visible and accessible.

The life-sized statue of Apollo of Veii, dating back to 510-500 B.C., is a case in point, the researchers said. Though the statue is one of the crown jewels at Rome’s National Etruscan Museum, a separate test of ShareArt showed that relatively few visitors give it the attention experts feel it deserves. Placement near the end of the collection, possibly chosen in a “best-for-last” approach, may be leading patrons to skip the artifact altogether, ENEA’s Marghella said.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker (artshacker.com) website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (http://www.creatingconnection.org/about/)

I am currently the Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.

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