Academic journal article Studies in Art Education

Investigating Assumptions about the Relationship between Viewing Duration and Better Art Appreciations

Academic journal article Studies in Art Education

Investigating Assumptions about the Relationship between Viewing Duration and Better Art Appreciations

Article excerpt

The research project discussed in this article focuses on the relationship between prolonged viewing periods and the art appteciation responses of a group of volunteer adult informants. The study1 in question carefully examined the verbal responses of these non-expert viewers as they encounteted works of public contempotary art. Mote specifically, the study was designed to compare these viewers' typical viewing process against their optimal viewing abilities. In this way, the research team hoped to determine whether or not the informants employed their full abilities when they responded to works of art undet different conditions. To begin, we provide a theoretical framework for the eventual presentation and discussion of the study's findings.

The Benefits of Extended Viewing: An Assumption?

Does the careful and prolonged viewing of a work of art guarantee a better appreciation of the art object in question? After all, common sense dictates that simply spending more time on any task should lead to a better result. In fact, this idea is widely accepted in the museum education community as a self-evident fact. that is, the more time a viewer spends looking at a work of art, the more likely it will be that his or her response will be a good one. Surprisingly, there actually exists very little published empirical research (i.e., field research conducted in art museums) on this notion. In the few publications that discuss the importance of time as a factor in the museum experience, time is most often discussed in terms of the amount of time the average visitor spends on certain activities (Falk & Dierking, 1992) or in the form of prescriptions as to how visitors should make use of their time in the museum (Finn, 1985; Shettel, 1997; Hein, 1998; Henry, 2000). One exception is an early study in which the amount of time that subjects spent viewing slides of works of art was found to have a significant influence on how much the subjects were able to recall about works of art with low levels of abstraction. However, "longer viewing times and greater knowledge of visual art did not play as great a role in determining the memorability of highly abstract works as they did for artworks exhibiting low levels of abstraction" (Koroscik, 1982, pp. 20-21). In the course of our research, we have found few reports of research findings specifically on the impact of extended periods of art viewing. This is, we believe, an indication of the paucity of research into this problem. In the absence of evidence to the contrary, and in spite of its de facto widespread acceptance, the impact of prolonged looking on art interpretations remains largely an unproven assumption. So far, there is too little empirical evidence in the museum education literature to either conclusively support or refute this claim.

At this point, readers might question the necessity or value in verifying this assumption: an objection might be that some claims are so self-evident as to not warrant further scrutiny. The simple straightforward answer here is that, sometimes, what might first appear as an obvious assertion can, in reality, be misleading. For example, in the late 1980s, many museum professionals became convinced that a major difference between expert and non-expert interpretations resided in the overall psychological orientation of their respective art-related discourse: non-expert interpretations were believed to be more emotional and expert interpretations more cognitive. However, when verified empirically, this assumption was determined to be unfounded. Regardless of expertise, all adult visitors studied adopted mainly a cognitive orientation during their visits to the museum (Lachapelle, 1994; Dufresne-Tassé & Lefebvre, 1995). In the end, it was field-based research that finally laid this idea to rest.

Are we dealing with a similar situation here? Is there a basic misunderstanding of the impact of longer viewing periods on museum visitors' art interpretations? …

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