Rethinking How We Exhibit Art

One question on the minds of people involved with art museums, or even art galleries, is how we make sure that art remains relevant to new audiences. Museum attendance is down  (except for traveling blockbuster shows) as museums compete with the social media sites like Instagram and Twitter where people now go to be inspired by viewing interesting art and photography. So how is art, like Titian from from the 16th century, supposed to inspire and inform people these days?

We’re at a turning point for art museums so many are looking for ways to engage new audiences. Large and silent galleries full of framed paintings may become a thing of the past.  Guided voice tours have been around for a while and can help viewer’s understand works.  But what more can we do more to engage and cultivate younger audiences?

To help answer this, some museum directors are turning to neuroscientists to help better understand how the viewer’s brain processes the experience of viewing art. “It seems pretty clear to us that most people experience art on the basis of unconscious filters, operators, values, past experiences and knowledge,” says Mr. Dan Monroe, director of the Peabody Essex Museum. Adding, “most people do not actually stop and look carefully and consciously think about what they’re seeing.”

New ideas are circulating on how to viewers can better experience art, including smaller rooms, more interactive exhibits that incorporate other senses like sound and smell, and posting questions and quotes on the wall instead of small explanatory placards.  Another idea is mixing eras and genres to highlight themes that cross traditional boundaries of artistic eras, movements, and styles.

I’m not sure what the answer is, but sticking with the status quo won’t help gain viewership and attendance to museums.  And I’m looking forward to experiencing art in new ways that foster and promote visual creativity and exploration.

For more on this subject, see the recent article in the NY Times:

Patricia is CEO & Cofounder of Contact her at

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