Absorbing the gaze, scattering looks: Klimt’s distinctive style and its two-fold effect on the eye of the beholder
Among the most renowned painters of the early twentieth century, Gustav Klimt is often associated – by experts and laymen alike - with a distinctive style of representation: the visual juxtaposition of realistic features and flattened ornamental patterns. Art historical writing suggests that this juxtaposition allows a two-fold experience; the perception of both the realm of art and the realm of life. While Klimt adopted a variety of stylistic choices in his career, this one popularised his work and was hardly ever used by other artists. The following study was designed to observe whether Klimt’s distinctive style causes a specific behaviour of the viewer, at the level of eye-movements. Twenty-one portraits were shown to thirty viewers while their eye-movements were recorded. The pictures included artworks by Klimt in both his distinctive and non-distinctive styles, as well as other artists of the same historical period. The recorded data show that only Klimt’s distinctive paintings induce a specific eye-movement pattern with alternating longer (“absorbed”) and shorter (“scattered”) fixations. We therefore claim that there is a behavioural correspondence to what art historical interpretations have so far asserted: The perception of “Klimt’s style” can be described as two-fold also at a physiological level.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.