Thursday 24 February 2011

Split Second

If you haven't already done so, it's a good time to go check out Brooklyn Museum's latest online experiment, Split Second: Indian Paintings.

As Shelley Bernstein explains in a blog post, the project is inspired by Malcolm Gladwell's book Blink

The book explores the power and pitfalls of initial reactions. After reading it, I started to wonder how the same theories might apply to a visitor’s reaction to a work of art. How does a person’s split-second reaction to a work of art change with the addition of typical museum interpretive text? As visitors walk through our galleries, what kind of work are they drawn to? And if they stop, look, read, or respond, how does their opinion of that work change?

On the Split Second site, you're asked to interact with images of Indian paintings from the Museum's collections in three ways. First, you are briefly presented to two images, and asked to pick the one that interests you most. Next, you're asked to apply words to individual works, and then rate their appeal to you on a sliding scale. Finally, you're given a work with some interpretative text and asked to rate it.

The online aspect of the Split Second show ends on April 14. Curators will use the data collected to help determine the selection of works for the exhibition, which opens in July:

Visitors will be able to view a small selection of the paintings that generated the most controversial and dynamic responses during the evaluation process, accompanied by a visualization and analysis of the data collected.

This interest in data-driven curating calls to mind the attempt at the new MONA in Tasmania to gather visitor data through audio-tours. More subtle than a pure popularity contest (vote for what you want to see on the floor), Split Second is an interesting attempt to gauge what it is that attracts people to certain artworks, and how they respond to the contextual information presented (or left out) by museums, without a straigh-out survey. I'm looking forward to seeing the results.

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