Back in 2010, I and 3,000 of my fellow museum-goers participated in an exhibit/experiment at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore (and I wrote about it for this blog). Last week, I learned the results of the research during a tour of the AAAS gallery in Washington, DC, and got the chance to do the experiment again. And so can you.
Gary Vikan, former director of Baltimore’s Walters Art Museum and self-described “neuroscience junkie,” walked us through the exhibit this past Thursday, just before he took part in the panel discussion “The Arts and the Brain” upstairs (see our recap). As a museum programmer, he continually sought ways to make art viewers more active participants in the experience. When he met Ed Connor of the Zanvyl Krieger Mind/Brain Institute at Johns Hopkins University and learned of his work on shape preference in vision, Vikan saw a way to bring science into the world of art, too.
Connor’s work could be seen as an exploration of the aesthetic theory of “significant form,” which includes the idea that certain aesthetic experiences are the same, independent of time, place, history, or culture. For example, are some aspects of shape universal? Do artists take advantage of our pre-programmed expectations when they design shapes they intend to be pleasing or startling?