August 2012
Volume 12, Issue 9
Free
Vision Sciences Society Annual Meeting Abstract  |   August 2012
The Death of of General Wolfe: Investigating the influence of artistic compositional techniques on eye movement control and interpretation of paintings
Author Affiliations
  • Nida Latif
    Department of Psychology, Queen's University
  • Paul M.J. Plante
    Department of Psychology, Queen's University
  • K.G. Munhall
    Department of Psychology, Queen's University
  • Monica S. Castelhano
    Department of Psychology, Queen's University
Journal of Vision August 2012, Vol.12, 408. doi:10.1167/12.9.408
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      Nida Latif, Paul M.J. Plante, K.G. Munhall, Monica S. Castelhano; The Death of of General Wolfe: Investigating the influence of artistic compositional techniques on eye movement control and interpretation of paintings. Journal of Vision 2012;12(9):408. doi: 10.1167/12.9.408.

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      © ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)

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Abstract

Research in natural scene perception has demonstrated the involvement of both saliency and cognitive control in directing gaze patterns (Parkhurst et al., 2002; Henderson et al., 2007). In paintings, the artist has control over both the salient and semantic aspects of the "scene". For example, artistic techniques such as brush strokes are used to add texture, increase salience and guide gaze to the artistic center of focus (Enns et al., 2010).

In the current study, we used three versions of the painting "The Death of General Wolfe" by artist Benjamin West (1738-1820) as stimuli. All these versions represent the same scene with slightly different compositions between versions – new background, changes in brightness and textural details and their locations. While all versions share a common central salient region, the number of additional salient regions varies.

Using the Wolfe paintings, we investigated whether an artist can manipulate salience through compositional differences to induce different interpretations across versions. Three groups of participants (n=16/group) viewed one version of the Wolfe painting along with five filler paintings while their eye movements were tracked.

Results indicated a significant difference in overall fixation duration (F (2,310)=4.57, p=0.01) between versions of the Wolfe paintings that was not present in filler paintings. Additionally, there was a difference in the dispersion between versions during the initial examination of the painting (first five fixations) (F (2,12) = 42.89, p<0.001). These results suggest that artists can differentially guide viewer gaze while maintaining the same semantic information. We hypothesized that changes in number of salient regions that affect gaze may also affect the perceived importance of accompanying figures in the painting. Further research will investigate whether differences in eye movement patterns result in subtle interpretation differences across versions of the painting.

Meeting abstract presented at VSS 2012

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