Indo-Pacific Journal of Phenomenology

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Understanding the Inarticulateness of Museum Visitors’ Experience of Paintings: A Phenomenological Study of Adult Non-Art Specialists

Cheung On Tam


This paper is based on a study of museum visitors’ experience of paintings: in particular, the experience of adult non-art specialists. Phenomenology, a form of inquiry that seeks to articulate lived experience, provided the philosophical and methodological framework for the study. Descriptions and themes relating to the experience of paintings were generated from interviews conducted with eight participants. These themes were categorized into two major areas: the articulated aspects and the non-articulated aspects. The former refers to aspects that people can articulate when they describe their experience. For example, they talk about the formal qualities of paintings, related textual information, and the museum environment. The latter refers to aspects that people cannot articulate. For example, they have difficulty in expressing their feelings, their relationship with time, and an understanding of the role of the body. This paper focuses on the aspects that museum visitors cannot articulate when they describe their experience. This inarticulateness provides insights into certain overlooked features of the experience: the embodied nature of the experience, the way time is experienced, and the viewer’s feelings about paintings. The paper ends with a discussion of the implications of the study for art educators. It is suggested that teachers should prepare students in ways that will enable them to make use of their various cognitive, social and cultural frameworks in experiencing works of art.

Indo-Pacific Journal of Phenomenology, September 2008, Volume 8, Edition 2
AJOL African Journals Online