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While researchers in the commercial sector long ago developed methods for gauging consumer tastes and preferences for different product attributes, research on preferences in the arts sector is still nascent. In light of our recent work over the past year investigating tastes across disciplines (primarily theatre, music, dance, and opera), it is clear that many audience members have little idea how to describe what they like and don’t like. The “I just know it when I see it” answer is not sufficient, and can be misleading.

Although we have begun to re-organize our understanding of preferences in the performing arts, we have yet to truly break down the walls around visual arts preferences. I would propose one possibility: install a heatmapping survey system that allows museum visitors to express which works of art in a gallery or exhibition are most appealing, striking or moving. Using interactive touchscreen devices, visitors would review images of each work, and simply touch the parts of each image to indicate which elements were most compelling. Heat maps and “hotspots” would be visible to visitors as they enter the museum, and on the website. Museums might even consider promoting a “hotspot of the week.”

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2 Responses to Hotspotting

  1. Nina Simon says:

    There are a couple museums that have done things like this, Rebecca. One of the most interesting was from Heureka, a science center in Finland, where they use cameras to do heatmapping of visitors occasionally. They were able to demonstrate differences between where boys and girls gravitate on field trips… and to give teachers heatmaps of their classes so the teachers would know what areas the kids did and didn’t hit.

  2. Eric Williams says:

    Why should we apply to art some of the most egregious and notorious marketing techniques that have created the consumerist nightmare that is contemporary society? It strikes me that the heatmapping system mentioned is rather akin to Facebook, Twitter, and the other social media channels that provide platforms for the obsessive self-absorption that currently runs rampant and adds virtually nothing to understanding or appreciating art. Just because something gathers attention doesn’t make it good or worthy of that attention.

    If audience members have little idea how to describe what they like and don’t like, that is a failure of our primary education system, not the art or the venue.

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