Roughly 16 years ago, two researchers wrote about a paradox they observed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Lisa F. Smith and Jeffrey K. Smith—now both professors at the University of Otago—had been studying how visitors experience museums for years. They focused on the way museum-goers thought about their jaunts through white-walled institutions and extolled the cognitive pleasure that came with looking at art. The Smiths found that visitors professed to love museums, describing the experience as “incredible,” “breathtaking,” “outstanding,” and “a thrill of a lifetime.”
But they also noticed something else: People don’t spend that much time looking at art. So, they wondered, in what would become a seminal study, published in 2001, “How can people be so deeply moved by works of art that they have viewed so briefly?”
To answer, they took a step back and asked another question: How much time were the people strolling the halls of the Met spending looking at art? Working with a volunteer, the couple monitored 150 people as they looked at six paintings from the museum’s collection, including famous works like Washington Crossing the Delaware (1851) by Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze and the The Card Players (1890–92) by Paul Cézanne. Read more