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Painting and Photography: Which Produces the Greater Emotional Response?

based on 20 ratings
Author: Shelly Smith

Grade Level: 9th to 12th; Type: Social Science

Objective:

This project explores people’s emotional responses to images in paintings vs similar images in photographs.

Research Question:

  • Do subjects report a stronger emotional response to a photograph or to a similar scene depicted in a painting?

Photography, invented in the early 19th century, is a new technology when measured in terms of human history. Human beings have, however, been making images - drawings, paitings, etc. - for most of their existence. This project explores people’s responses to paintings vs similar images in photographs. Does the literal touch of another human hand add or detract from an image’s power? Does the open-ended nature of a painting which, no matter how precise, leaves viewers to fill in details, allow subjects to insert themselves more readily into the scene and therefore experience it more strongly? Does the “reality” of a photograph give it more power?

Materials:

  • Computer with internet
  • Color printer
  • Paper and pencil for recording and analyzing findings
  • 20 or more test subjects

Experimental Procedure:

  1. Using the internet locate at least ten paintings and ten similar photographs depicting a range of human emotions. The content, colors, composition, etc. of each pairing of painting and photo should be as close to each other as possible.
  2. Print out a high-quality copy of each painting and photograph. All prints should be of the same size and quality.
  3. Show each test subject one image from each pairing, half as paintings and the other half as photos. Show the subject the prints one at a time. As you test subjects, vary which print you show in which group and the order in which you show them to avoid test biases.
  4. As the subject looks at each print, ask her what emotion the image evokes and to rate the intensity of that emotion on a scale of one to five with one being feeling the emotion only slightly and five being feeling the emotion intensely. Record subjects’ responses and genders.
  5. Analyze your findings. Did paintings or photos tend to evoke stronger or less-strong emotions? Did patterns of responses differ along gender lines?
  6. Consider explanations for your findings. Does the literal touch of another human hand add or detract from an image’s power? Does the open-ended nature of a painting which, no matter how precise, leaves viewers to fill in details, allow subjects to insert themselves more readily into the scene and therefore experience it more strongly? Does the “reality” of a photograph give it more power?

Terms/Concepts: Does painting or photography produce a greater emotional response?

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