The brief amount of time most art museum visitors give to a work of art is no big secret. Most of us would probably guess the average viewing time at around a minute or so a work, maybe half that.
Whoops! A bunch of busybody student physicists has been sitting in galleries actually doing the math and the results are not encouraging. What started out as an exercise to track how visitors approached an exhibition (the physics guys felt it had similarities to - wait for it - “the activity of a group of subatomic particles that are moving unpredictably, seemingly erratically, in space”) pretty much found out what the average guard/ attendant/ invigilator knows already.
Turns out: visitors move through a space in zigzagging patterns; different kinds of art seem to produce different patterns of movement and patterns of looking can be broken down into subsets.
And the time thing? The longest anyone in the study looked at a single object was 45 seconds, but most often it was two or three seconds.
As we had some trained OTN operatives free this week we sent them to do a quick sample map of movements in a contemporary art museum. The physics guys were right. The average time spent looking at objects was three seconds, 17 seconds on average for wall labels and 95 seconds to check a phone.
Images: Top, movement diagram by physicists Andrew Oriani in a gallery of Modern and Abstract art. Bottom, movement map by OTN research team at the Pacific Standard Time exhibition in Berlin.