What We’re Reading: “This Art Museum Hired a Neuroscientist to Change the Way We Look at Art” -Christopher Snow Hopkins

Imagine your professional life as a chaotic compilation of meetings, projects, networking, events, and a traffic-ridden commute – not far from the truth, right? Now think about the way your brain focuses in some of these hectic work-life situations? Can you hone-in on the million things that run through your mind or the numerous tasks you have to complete? Probably not to the extent that you would like.

So, now let’s make the metaphoric stretch of this hustle-bustle lifestyle to the salon style presentation of museum galleries. Chances are, if you have ever found yourself in a salon setting you may find it hard to focus on a specific painting or object, or you may feel overwhelmed by the volume of works on display. From here, questions arise as to why and how the human brain can’t seem to focus on too many things at once, or why we might feel overwhelmed in everyday life or museum salons? Or how can museums best present their collections in a balanced manner that does not overwhelm and underwhelm the audience? These questions, compiled with the declining attendance in museums, are what prompted the Peabody Essex Museum to hire Neurological Researcher Dr. Tedi Asher in the hopes of finding a means to display its collection that will draw audiences in and increase the relevance of museums in today’s world. In his article “Neuroscientist to Change the Way we Look at Art”, Christopher Snow Hopkins explores the measure that the PEM is taking alongside Dr. Asher to offer heightened sensory experiences that challenge, but also meet the needs of the audience.

According to author Christopher Hopkins, the aim of neurological research at PEM is to continue to promote museums to the public in a time of declining museum attendance. Dr Asher believes Neuroaesthetics is the key to this mission expansion at the PEM. As described in the article, neuroaesthetics is “the synthesis of neuroscience and aesthetics.

Neuroscience could hold many answers to the problematic relevance museums seem to face today. Perhaps visitors are not being “wowed” enough, or they are being overwhelmed by an exhibit, as suggested in the salon-style example. Thus, neuroaesthetics is a fresh approach that could help improve the visitor experience and intake through our brain connections. Asher claims that a “satisfying experience has this delicate balance of meeting and violating our expectations.” Therefore, in exhibit design there is a fine balance between surprising the visitor and helping the visitor make sense of the content.

Asher is also aiming toward creating rest areas that act as palate cleansers to give visitors a break between art pieces, exhibits, etc.  She also wants to develop spaces that really highlight one or a few objects, but evoke different emotions and sensory experiences within the space to accompany the objects.

It will certainly be intriguing to follow Asher’s progress at the PEM and to view and better understand neurology’s place in the museum experience.

Click here to read Christopher Snow Hopkins’ full article!