In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • Subtle Differences: Men and Women and Their Art Reception.
  • Martin Tröndle (bio), Volker Kirchberg (bio), and Wolfgang Tschacher (bio)

Sex and age are one of the most frequently queried factors in visitor surveys of fine-art museums. But, what do we know after having collected this information? Does sex have any influence on art reception? Do men and women report different experiences or even show different behavior in the exhibition halls? And if so, is there any kind of explanation for this? Interestingly, it seems that scarcely any research has been conducted on such questions. In the context of the Swiss national research project eMotion--Mapping Museum Experience, we analyzed these questions via various methods: a complex visitor tracking system, wireless physiological monitoring, information mapping, and questionnaire-based surveys. Via this array of methodologies, we were able to show that sex contributes to various differences in art reception, but also in visitor behavior and the embodied reactions to artworks as well as informational texts. It also became obvious that men and women have different expectations upon entering a fine-art museum.


Aesthetics: Does Sex Matter?

While presenting this manuscript to art practitioners and art theorists, we noticed that there is great discomfort confronting this topic. Some questions raised were why is such research conducted, what is it good for, and does it impose preconceptions on men and women. Since Bourdieu and Darbel,1 it is widely assumed that sociodemographic factors such as education or profession have an impact on art reception. However, questions of basal sociodemographic factors like sex and age and their influence on art reception are seldom discussed. John Falk, a specialist on museum visitor studies, even states, “Quantitative measures such as demographics provide too little information about visitors in relation to museums to be useful variables for describing and understanding the museum visitor experience.”2

Clearly, one has to admit that art reception is more complex and cannot be reduced to one simple factor. Along with sex, other criteria, such as the visitors’ knowledge, their expectations and motivation to visit the museum, and the subject or style of the artwork influence art reception and visitor behavior. In the Swiss national research project eMotion Mapping Museum Experience,3 [End Page 65] we analyzed the effect of single works, different genres and varying art-historical periods of artworks.4 In addition, we tested how curatorial arrangements affect art reception;5 we tested the influence of companionship and communication on visitors’ aesthetic perception,6 and we analyzed the influence of knowledge on the reception of fine arts.7

Astonishingly, approaching the question of the influence of sex on art reception, we found little research. A search in various peer-reviewed journals showed that the topic is practically nonexistent in scholarly publications. The same impression resulted from an extensive Internet search. This appears to us unusual.

Only in the field of evolutionary aesthetics8 do authors try, by referring to Charles Darwin9 and the concept of natural and sexual selection, first, to understand the emerging of aesthetics and art at all, and, second, to analyze the function of aesthetics in sexual selection. Following this line of argumentation, for example, Christopher Perricone10 sketches out why women would be better art critics and why most artists are male.11

In German, there is only one word for gender and sex, Geschlecht; therefore, in our study, we did not differentiate in the survey of the biological and the social sex. But if one distinguishes between the biological sex and the social construction of gender, one finds various contributions. Gender questions have been discussed in museum studies12 and more largely in feminist aesthetics,13 as has the question of representation of women in artworks or as artists themselves. According to Korsmeyer, in the postmodern debates about culture and society in the 1970s, a feminist perspective arose from a combination of political activism and the contemporary art world.14 Also, under the term “feminist aesthetics,” a critical approach toward male-dominated art theory and also toward the art world and its institutions has been developed.15 From 1980 onward, the peer-reviewed, biannual Woman’s Art Journal published articles debating critical...