The Museum Experience:
Mapping the Experience of Fine Art
Curator – The Museum Journal , 58 (2), 1–25, 2015
How do visitors to fine art museums experience exhibitions? Can we classify their experiences? What are the factors that drive different types of visitor experience? We set out to answer these questions by analyzing from sociological, psychological, physiological, and behavioral perspectives the responses of 576 visitors to a special exhibition 11: 1 (+ 3) = Eleven Collections for One Museum mounted at the Kunstmuseum St. Gallen, Switzerland, from June to August 2009. Our five‐year research project, eMotion: Mapping the Museum Experience, interpreted computer‐modeled movement‐tracking and physiological maps of the visitors in complement with entrance and exit surveys. We tested individual aspects of the visitor, such as her or his expectations of the exhibition prior to seeing it; his or her socio‐demographic characteristics; her or his affinity for art, mood just before and receptivity just after the visit; and spatial, individual, and group‐related behavior patterns. Our study breaks down three types of exhibition experience that we call “the contemplative,” “the enthusing,” and “the social experience.” The results yield new information about aesthetic arousal, cognitive reaction, patterns of social behavior, and the diverse elements of the exhibition experience.