Science tracks our ways of viewing art

The way thousands of gallery visitors view masterpieces by Rembrandt, Dégas and Munch over the next three months could transform the way all art is seen in future.

The way thousands of gallery visitors view masterpieces by Rembrandt, Dégas and Munch over the next three months could transform the way all art is seen in future.

It might even lead to improved driving skills and a better reading of X-ray films, by explaining how we actually use our eyes.

Curators have asked scientists from the University of Derby to track the eye movements of thousands of visitors to a new exhibition, Telling Time, at the National Gallery in London.

It will be the biggest investigation ever carried out into how humans absorb images and how artists' use of colour and texture affects the way a painting "works".

The participants will sit before a computer screen where copies of paintings will be shown. Infra-red light will shine onto the eyes to illuminate the focusing process, and an infra-red sensitive camera will record reflections on the cornea and retina of the eyes as they look.

Some of the paintings will have "prompts" inviting the viewer to notice particular aspects of the art work, and the camera will register how that information affects the pattern of observation.

Up to 120,000 visitors are expected at the show, which opens on Wednesday and runs until January.

Alexander Sturgis, the curator, brought in the scientists because he wanted to show visitors how long it took to see what was really in a painting. "It's not something people think about a great deal. They imagine they see things instantly, but you see extraordinarily little instantly," he said.

How to lead the eye through a painting was a critical concern of artists in the 17th and 18th centuries. The experiment should reveal whether those artists successfully resolved the problem. But Dr Sturgis said he suspected it would also show that experts today seriously overestimate how much the ordinary viewer understands of what they are seeing.

"It may show that what we in the gallery imagine to be self-evident is not, and needs to be pointed out," he said.

Dr David Wooding from the Applied Vision Research Unit at the University of Derby said the experiment could contribute to the basic scientific understanding of our visual systems. But the findings were also likely to lead to practical uses.

"There are lots of ways in which we use our sight every day: when we're driving, reading, looking at signs, when a radiologist is looking at an X-ray. So we may be able to take these findings and apply them to other visual areas, such as driving, signage or advertising."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Voices
Focus E15 Mothers led a protest to highlight the lack of affordable housing in London
voicesLondon’s housing crisis amounts to an abuse of human rights, says Grace Dent
News
i100
Life and Style
food + drinkClue: You'll either love them or you'll hate them
News
Howard Marks has been diagnosed with inoperable cancer, he has announced
people
News
newsIf you're India's Narendra Modi, it seems the answer is a pinstripe suit emblazoned with your own name
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: GeoDatabase Specialist - Hazard Modelling

£35000 - £43000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our award-winning client is one...

Recruitment Genius: Compressed Air Pipework Installation Engineer

£15000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of Atlas ...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Coordinator - Pallet Network

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Opportunity to join established...

Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: On behalf of a successful academy i...

Day In a Page

Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project