How do different people look at the same artwork? This app wants to find out

·2-min read
The Ikonikat application lets users identify what draws their gaze when looking at an artwork.

There are a thousand and one ways to look at a work of art. To explore this idea, France's National Center for Scientific Research, CNRS, has developed the Ikonikat application to better understand the course of our gaze as we take in a painting.

What draws your attention in a painting like "The Coronation of Napoleon"? The emperor's mother, Letizia Bonaparte, in the middle of the scene, or the discreet ambassador from Istanbul lurking in the shadows on the right? The answer will inevitably vary from person to person. So much so that researchers have decided to record all such possibilities in an application.

Ikonikat was designed and created by Mathias Blanc, from the Institut de recherches historiques du Septentrion and the Fédération de recherche Sciences et cultures du visuel. It allows us to identify what our gaze chooses to focus on when faced with a work of art. Users circle or highlight the pictorial elements that "catch their eye" as their gaze scans the artwork. According to the CNRS, these pathways and patterns allow researchers to examine whether a visitor's attention is focused on the elements considered essential by art experts, or if it is drawn to other aspects of these works.

Ways of seeing

This application has already been used on a tablet device in 2017, during exhibitions at the Louvre-Lens and the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Lille. Here, various visitors lent themselves to the exercise, showing just how much people's ways of looking at art can diverge. Take Vermeer's "The Milkmaid," for example. Fifth graders and their teachers used Ikonikat to indicate the elements and lines of force in the painting that attracted their attention. It turns out that while adults focus first on the milkmaid, children tend to focus on the pot and the hands of the character, as reported in the CNRS Journal.

Ikonikat is now available on the Orange Foundation's cultural MOOC platform . The goal is to make the application available to a very wide audience in order to obtain a large amount of scientific data. Researcher Mathias Blanc and Pimenko -- the eLearning production agency involved in the production of the Foundation's MOOCs -- have developed the tool to tailor it to the experience of an internet user. All you have to do is register on the organization's website to try it out online.

Caroline Drzewinski

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