Evaluating emotional impact

What emotional impacts does art have? How might one even go about measuring that? Lesley Brook investigated.

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In 2020 the Dunedin School of Art held an exhibition, The Complete Entanglement of Everything, of artworks in which artists were responding to climate change and other effects of human activity on the environment. Lead curator Bridie Lonie hoped that this exhibition would have emotional impacts which might contribute to increased pro-environmental behaviour amongst visitors. 

Lesley Brook undertook an evaluation of the exhibition's emotional impacts for her Master of Professional Practice research. She used Q methodology, asking the 25 research participants to sort 54 photographs of the artworks they had seen in the exhibition, according to the strength of their emotional responses to them. Lesley then asked participants to explain their four strongest positive and four strongest negative emotional responses. Statistical analysis of the Q sorts of photographs revealed five types of responses, depending on how participants perceived their negative emotions and the level of their experience with contemporary art. The success of this methodology provides another tool for researchers and research impact practitioners to use to evaluate research impact. 

Lesley's interviews with participants also explored their emotional responses to the artworks in other ways. The exhibition succeeded in increasing participants' sense of connectedness with other people, with the environment and between their thoughts and feelings. The interview data also provided insights into the various factors that influence the formation of emotional responses, both to art and to environmental issues. These insights are relevant for curators and artists seeking to understand and increase the influence of art in speaking to current social issues.

May 2022

Lesley Brook

Research Projects Coordinator
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Published on 03 May 2023