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As part of national millennium celebrations the National Gallery in London held an exhibition related to time, which it called 'Telling Time'. A key aspect of this was to show how individuals do not take in paintings in a single glance, but rather they look around the painting and come to form their impression of it in a series of steps over a period of time. There are many devices and elements of composition employed by artists in an attempt to exploit this fact, becoming more sophisticated over the years. The artist can in theory help to direct the way in which their paintings are viewed and hence influence the way in which we interpret them, or come to understand the painting's message or story.

To demonstrate these principles the AVRC installed an interactive eye-movement exhibit in one of the telling Time galleries. This comprised an autonomous eye-tracking system which we developed using an ASL 5000 eye tracking system as a basis, a monitor upon which participants were shown images of paintings from the national gallery's collection, and a large plasma screen to display participant's scan paths live to visitors. Participants were also given the opportunity to review their scan paths after their session.

It is estimated that around 5000 visitors chose to be participants in the exhibition, and though not all were successfully tracked or completed their session this resulted in a large number of paintings being viewed by a great many people. The AVRC collected the eye movement data from this installation, and intends to analyse them in order to answer various hypothesis, particularly those relating to the devices employed by artists to assess if they really do help to direct viewer's gaze as suggested.

This was an un funded collaboration and there is a vast amount of data from it, hence it is likely to take quite a while to cary out the analysis and generate results. It is envisaged however that the work will result in publications and it has already formed the basis for some PhDs being carried out by students. Any interesting findings will appear here as and when they become available.

 

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