Interpretive self-efficacy, or confidence for making sense of or explaining an artwork, was an important factor determining a participant’s interest in a piece. Art viewers with high self-efficacy had slightly higher interest, and those with low self-efficacy correspondingly had low interest. For all you data nerds out there, yes, this was a significant difference at the .05 level. A visitor's confidence in their interpretive abilities is significantly related to their interest in a contemporary artwork.
Now, what about the labels? I compared participants with and without labels in order to see if there is a measurable connection between confidence and the availability of information or interpretation that most art museums provide. Participants who read labels reported slightly higher self-efficacy and interest, but did not show statistically significant differences from participants with covered labels. Labels did not significantly increase a visitor's interpretive confidence or interest in an artwork.
On average, participants were more interested in the work than they were confident; mean self-efficacy scores were half a point lower than mean interest scores. This means that although a visitor might not be completely confident when looking at an artwork, interest can still be triggered by the objects in the museum (e.g. curiosity). This might be a no-duh finding, but it's validating to see and exciting that, although people might lack confidence, they are still open to an artwork.
Next time you're in your galleries, looking at your objects, or re-assessing your interpretation, consider whether your visitors feel empowered or at a loss. Do they think they can access the information, considerations, and responses you intend, or do they feel excluded and out of the loop? Let's get our visitors subconsciously chanting the mantra, "I think I can, I think I can...".
Are you interested in learning more? Other findings from this study will be posted in the near future. Topics to be addressed include: interpretive profiles, label use strategies, contemporary art label content, interactive activities, and recommendations to increase interest in contemporary art.