Theses Doctoral

Constructing Perception-Using What We Know to Make Sense of What We See: Implicit Effects of Presentation on Perceptions of Abstract and Representational Art

Faye, Allison

While new approaches to displaying art free both the art and the viewer from overly didactic forms of curation, there have been very few attempts to examine how viewers negotiate meaning from art when no goal or directive is provided. While some see difference as the critical factor, others use similarity as a way to introduce new narratives.

This dissertation research takes a close look at the kinds of things people observe in visual works of art to expose the specific ways that the offerings in the work are made knowable by its viewer and how different modes of presentation might affect the process. A paired design was developed to find out how juxtaposing works on dimensions of similarity and difference might affect what people see in individual paintings and whether the presence or absence of depictive content would be a factor.

In three online experiments, participants were tasked with generating as many single words or short phrase responses as they could over a two-minute time period from a selection of modern and contemporary paintings – 32 abstract and 32 representational. In the first study, paintings were presented sequentially. In the next study, the same pictures were purposefully matched for color, composition, style, and thematic content. In the third study, the same pictures were re-paired to maximize difference.

Pairing effected an overall decline in number of total comments for representational paintings compared to isolated single-view sequences. In contrast, significant increases were found for abstract art when the adjacent painting was also abstract. Significant consistency in response patterns for both art types across all three studies provide quantitative and content-based evidence for a normative level of engagement, with specific processing effects relative to art type.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Arts and Humanities
Thesis Advisors
Burton, Judith M.
Ed.D., Teachers College, Columbia University
Published Here
February 21, 2024