Interview with Łukasz Kędziora, art historian, this year’s Kuyavian-Pomeranian Voivodship Marshall Scholarship recipient

You specialise in a brand new discipline that could be described as a scientific, objective approach to art reception. What is it and what’s the purpose of this kind of research?

Frankly speaking, what I deal with is neither brand new, nor as objective as it would seem. Both theory and art history, back since its academic beginnings, have taken interest in how our cognitive process works. What is more, in contrast to the Anglo-Saxon academic culture, having a clear division into science and humanities, in Poland we’ve got “human sciences”, therefore an art historian like me has a full right to think of himself as a scientist. My research is only a continuation of some kind of trend within art history. Its aim is to provide the possibly most comprehensive explanation – therefore, also understanding – of the mechanisms of all the elements involved in art reception. They include the artist, the object, and the viewer – and each of them requires the same attention. For instance, what interests me are the mechanisms of experiencing emotions. Why a painting can make us angry, pleased, or, in some extreme cases, make us feel disgust or pain. It’s also interesting how we look at art, whether it could be possible to distinguish some universal pattern for different types of art. Another fascinating issue is the influence of our everyday unconscious visual experience on our creativity and visual preferences. In other words, what interests me is how the things we like or create as adults could be influenced by what we saw when we were children.

These issues, as well as many more, can be qualified as problems typical for the subdiscipline named cognitive/empirical art history, or – neuroarthistory.

Fot. Szymon Zdziebło/ dla UMWKP
Fot. Szymon Zdziebło/ dla UMWKP

Photo: Szymon Zdziebło/

Among this new discipline research tools we can find eye-tracking. What is the purpose of checking how a person looks at pictures by Picasso or Degas? What’s the meaning of “neuroaesthetic research” in this context?

In my opinion, the point where using eye-tracking in art will lead us to depends on the research questions we will ask. In my scholarship application I have asked about the usefulness of eye-tracking for creating museum exhibitions and describing works of art. I would like to make use of the opportunities offered by eye-tracking in order to speak about works of art in a more effective and convincing way. The research we have already completed has allowed us to check which works get the largest attention of museum guests. What is more, we are able to predict which areas of the painting a viewer will look at most often. With this knowledge, we can prepare not only more interesting museum guides, but perhaps also better, more engaging expositions.

When it comes to neuroaesthetics, today it’s a discipline constituting a set of theories and various approaches bringing us closer to explaining phenomena which make up our perception. In this context, eye-tracking research seems to be one of the tools making it possible to achieve this aim faster.

Fot. Szymon Zdziebło/ dla UMWKP
Photo: Szymon Zdziebło/

What are you working on now? How are you going to use the scholarship?

Currently I’m finishing my PhD dissertation at the Faculty of History, Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń. Apart from that, I’m trying to popularise my approach to interpreting works of art, which results e.g. in coorganising “Biofeedback in art” workshops that take place on 16th March during the Brain Awareness Week in Toruń. Taking this opportunity, I’d like to invite all artists and art enthusiasts to attend this meeting.

When it comes to the scholarship, it’s essential to conduct a project consisting of two main elements. The first one is an interactive guide for the “Polish painting and sculpture from 1945 to 2010 in the District Museum in Toruń collection”. The second one is an innovative monograph concerning the use of eye-tracking in museum space. The publication will have a form of a series of videoarticles that will later be reviewed and translated into English.

The plural form I’m using to describe the project is really important. Although the scholarship is addressed to an individual person, I wouldn’t be able to achieve the goals described in my application all by myself. The project also involves cooperation with dr Piotr Szymański, Emotin CEO, who took responsibility for the correct realisation of eye-tracking tests. Translations and proofreading will be provided by Martyna Kowalska, an English & Polish teacher.

It would be impossible to conduct the project without the help of the exhibition curator, Anna Kroplewska-Gajewska, as well as the director of the District Museum in Toruń, dr Marek Rubnikowicz.


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