I believe it could be valuable to study art galleries and installations with eye tracking. When preparing for a new show, gallery managers and curators often mockup small scale models of the space, and begin to plan the layout of the new exhibition. During this process, great consideration is made when deciding how the art fills the gallery. In addition to this, though, assumptions are made regarding how visitors will flow through the area and point their eyes.
In fine art galleries that exhibit work for sale, eye tracking could be especially useful. To study how onlookers cast their gaze upon the art could aid managers in laying out the work appropriately. I think of it in a similar vain to the American supermarket: traditional grocery stores separate the most commonly purchased goods to the far corners of the store. By placing dairy in one corner and produce in another, the store guarantees that shoppers walk past the most number of items. The hope in doing so is that shoppers will find more products they’re interested in, and then (ideally) spend more money.
If we had data on how wealthy observers look at art in a space through eye tracking, it is possible that curators could arrange the art in the most opportune manner. Through study, we could find out which artwork visitors look to first. Following this, we could see where their gaze moves after looking at the price tag of the piece. Perhaps if they look at the price and immediately look away from the painting, we know the art is too expensive or not placed appropriately in the space. If they look to the price tag, and then gaze longer at the art, we may have a winner.
I would work with small galleries in a metropolitan area (maybe Boston or Cambridge) to implement this experiment. Using galleries which are run by Harvard or MIT may be particularly advantageous – as these institutions would likely be interested in the data found through the study. During the sign in process or ticket purchasing of entering the gallery, I would have guests sign a waiver consenting to the study. If they were uninterested in being included in the results, they could wear a small pin on their shirt which is detected by the eye tracking technology. A program could be written to omit those wearing the pin from the study.
I believe the challenges from the study would include getting galleries to consent to the installation of technology in their space, as well as gathering a statistically significant number of willing participants. I remain hopeful, though. I would hope to discover how people look at art in a gallery setting. This would be interesting information to collect from a scholarly perspective, as well as a commercial one. It would be wonderful to know how the public looks at and digests art. Also, it would be useful in the commercial sale of art, as outlined earlier.