Does Gallery Lighting Really have an Impact on Appreciation of Art? An ecologically-valid study of lighting changes and the assessment and emotional experience with representational and abstract paintings

Matthew Pelowski, Andrea Graser, Eva Specker, Michael Forster, Josefine von Hinüber, Helmut Leder

We report two studies considering the potential for gallery lighting conditions to modulate appraisals and emotional experience with works of visual art. As recently documented in a number of papers, art appreciation represents a complex blend of formal artwork factors, personalities and backgrounds of viewers, and multiple aspects of context regarding where and how art is experienced. Among the latter, lighting would be expected to play a fundamental role. However, surprisingly, this has received little empirical assessment, with almost no ecologically valid gallery analyses and no between-participant designs which would minimize awareness of lighting changes themselves. Here, we employed a controlled paradigm using a spontaneous art viewing context, a gallery-like setting, and a proprietary lighting system which allowed the minute adjustment of lighting intensity/temperature (CCT). Participants viewed a selection of original representational and abstract art under three different CCT conditions (Study 1), modulated between participants, and then reported on their artwork appraisal and emotional experience. The selected lighting temperatures were chosen based on an initial investigation of existing art museums within the Vienna area, addressing how these institutions themselves light their art—a question which, also somewhat surprisingly, has not often been considered. We also allowed the same participants to set the light temperature themselves in order to test hypotheses regarding what might be an ‘ideal’ lighting condition for art. In Study 2, we explored the question of whether artworks made by an artist to match specific lighting conditions show a resulting connection to the ratings of viewers when shown in the same or different light. Results showed almost no effects from lighting changes in both studies. Viewers’ self-set light temperature (mean = 3777 K) did roughly coincide with the suggested most enjoyable conditions for everyday living and some past research on art viewing, but again showed wide interpersonal variance. Results, and a general review of lighting factors are considered in order to provide art researchers and curators with a tool for conducting future study.

Department of Cognition, Emotion, and Methods in Psychology
External organisation(s)
Studio Okular
Frontiers in Psychology
No. of pages
Publication date
Peer reviewed
Austrian Fields of Science 2012
501002 Applied psychology, 604004 Fine arts, 604018 Conservation, restoration, 501001 General psychology
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