According to a recent study, the difference between having an emotional or intellectual response to an artwork is rooted in the time period in which the piece was created. Visitors to a museum housing ancient art tended to describe their experience in cognitive terms, while those at a modern art museum reported they were emotionally engaged.
The study from the University of Rome,published in the journal Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity and the Arts, drew its results from a pool of 137 attendees to two of Rome’s local museums. Visitors to the Braschi, which contains artworks dating up to the mid-1800s, and the National Gallery of Modern and Contemporary Art, which houses artworks made from the late 19th century to the present, both filled out surveys upon exiting their respective institutions.
Asked to describe their motivation for the visit, patrons in both groups most often answered "interest in the artists" and "to see the artworks in the original." Participants at the modern art museum also frequently listed "the pleasure they feel during their visit," while at the Braschi, they mentioned "the desire for cultural enrichment."
Both groups scored high for the personality trait "openness to experience," but those at the modern art museum had higher scores for "sensation-seeking." The research teamconcluded that “people who go to modern art museums are willing to go in search of sensation more than people who go to ancient art museums."
The study also found that most of the museum goers were women, the education levels of the participants were quite similar, and those attending the modern art museum were on average 10 years younger than those viewing ancient art. At both institutions, a majority of patrons reported being satisfied with their experience, saying that they liked their visit "very much."