Museum visitors' self-efficacy and interest in contemporary art

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Wilson, Lauren Michelle

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Contemporary art can pose a particular challenge for museum visitors to interpret, and psychological literature suggests that such challenge to self-efficacy may lower interest (Hong & Lin, 2013; Ryan & Deci, 2000; Schunk & Usher, 2008). This study sought to explore museum visitors’ interpretive strategies, feelings of self-efficacy, and interest. Factors including prior knowledge, interpretation support (e.g., labels), and challenge of artwork were also considered. Results discuss suggestions for museums when displaying works that may be perceived as challenging or unapproachable. Participants included visitors to the Blanton Museum of Art and students at the University of Texas at Austin who were pre-screened for prior knowledge of museums. Sessions occurred during the fall of 2014 and included completing questionnaires while viewing three works in the contemporary galleries. Students also participated in focus groups. Both quantitative and qualitative results confirmed predictions that interpretive self-efficacy and interest are related. Provision of labels did not show significant difference for self-efficacy or interest, but high prior knowledge of art did show increased levels of self-efficacy. A search for meaning and aesthetic observation and preference typically drove participant interpretations; most were highly personal. With low self-efficacy, participants struggled to interpret works and even considered pieces arbitrary. However, they enjoyed being challenged to interpret the work on their own before viewing the label. Participants responded particularly well to the idea of using interactive interpretive devices as a means of building understanding for works to which they may not otherwise be drawn. Overwhelmingly, low-prior-knowledge infrequent visitors wanted clear explanations of the artist's motive for creating the work and wanted the ability to visualize or even mimic the artistic process for creating each piece. Museums striving to increase interest in contemporary art for visitors should prioritize building self-efficacy through supportive interpretive strategies.



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