23 September 2022

Online Art Viewing

Welcome back. To make amends for not blogging about art in years, I have two studies to review. Although the two are quite different, both focus on appreciating how viewing art can improve wellbeing--even when the viewing is virtual. I hope you’ll find them of interest.

Viewing Art and Non-Art
Researchers with Austria’s University of Vienna, Germany’s Max Planck School of Cognition, and Netherland’s Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics examined how online art and cultural engagements impact mental states.

They recruited 84 participants (65 women, 17 men, 1 other, 1 unknown; average age 35, ranging from 21 to 74; from the Americas, 48%, Europe, 43%, Asia, 8% and Africa, 1%), and exposed 40 to an “art” condition, 44 to a “non-art” condition.

Both conditions, taken from Google Arts and Culture, consisted of single online images whose visual details could be zoomed in on and related text.

The “art” condition drew upon an exhibition of Monet’s The Water Lily Pond from the National Gallery, London. 

Claude Monet’s “The Water Lily Pond” (from artsandculture.google.com).
The “non-art” condition was A Bitesize History of Japanese Food; Explore a mouthwatering box of Japan’s iconic cuisine, which included a diagram in the shape of a bento box, containing photos and facts on the history and traditions of Japanese food.

"A Bitesize History of Japanese Food" (from artsandculture.google.com).
Assessing the Effects
A pre-study survey collected participants’ demographic and life status, personality traits and art interest and expertise.

To measure the impact of viewing the online conditions, the researchers assessed six wellbeing dependent variables in both pre- and post-viewing surveys: (1) De Jong Gierveld 6-Item Loneliness Scale; (2) State-Trait Anxiety Inventory; (3) Satisfaction with Life scale; (4) Subjective Wellbeing scale; and (5,6) two questions to rate positive and negative mood.

The Findings
On average, participants engaged with each condition for only about 1.5 to 2 minutes, describing the experience in similar positive-valence emotions and cognitive states (e.g., serenity, happy, stimulated, insight), with low levels of negative emotions (e.g., fear, embarrassed, anger).

Overall, the study found a significant impact on several wellbeing variables. The researchers concluded that online cultural engagement, including but not limited to fine art, appears to be a viable approach to support individuals’ mood, anxiety, loneliness and wellbeing, especially when the content is beautiful, meaningful and inspiring to the viewer.

Average self-reported ratings (means and standard deviations) for each time condition per group; number of participants, a = 36, b = 42; for a positive impact, negative mood, anxiety and loneliness should decrease while positive mood, life satisfaction and wellbeing should increase (from Table 1, www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2022.782033/full).
Online Museum Tours
Research has shown that older adults' wellbeing and quality of life are negatively impacted by both social isolation and frailty; the latter is defined as an aging-related syndrome of physiological decline, characterized by marked vulnerability to adverse health outcome. A team of investigators, led by a researcher with the University of Montreal, joined with the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts to gauge the potential benefits of online museum tours.

Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (museesmontreal.org/en/museums/montreal-museum-of-fine-arts).
They screened and ultimately enlisted 106 Montreal community dwellers aged 65 and over, randomly assigning half to a 3-month cycle of weekly online museum tours and half to be held as control, abstaining from any cultural activities.

Each online 45-minute museum visit was performed with 6 to 8 participants and a trained guide, for a total of 8 groups. The visits included presentation of objectives, a dialogic-style tour with trained museum guides, and open-ended discussion. The tour content consisted of artwork, live discussions animated by tour guides, ancillary information on the artwork or artists from tour guides, and videos about specific works or artists.

Assessing the Effects
Social isolation, wellbeing, quality of life and frailty were assessed for both groups using validated scales at baseline (M0) and after 3 months (M3). The museum tour group showed significant improvements in social isolation, wellbeing, quality of life and especially frailty scores compared to the control group.

Mean (standard deviation) changes in frailty of control and tour groups from baseline to 3 months; calculated from questionnaire providing a score ranging from 0 (vigorous) to 18 (severe frailty) (from Table 2, www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fmed.2022.969122/full).

The study suggests that a 3-month cycle of weekly online museum tours may foster a sense of connectedness and thereby improve mental and physical health in community-dwelling older adults.

Wrap Up
Living within a metro ride to Washington D.C. for over 20 years afforded the opportunity to visit the National and other museums. How often did we take advantage of it? Would online viewing have made a difference? Would it have improved our wellbeing? I’ve got to think about that, especially now that I’m retired and those museum are far away. How about you?

Thanks for stopping by.

Study of online art and non-art viewing in Frontiers in Psychology journal: www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2022.782033/full
Article on study on EurekAlert! website: www.eurekalert.org/news-releases/958286

Google Arts & Culture:

Study of online museum tours in Frontiers in Medicine journal: www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fmed.2022.969122/full
Article on study on EurekAlert! website: www.eurekalert.org/news-releases/961581

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