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Indie Success: Art to Heart – Publishers Weekly



In his independently published First Blush: People’s Intuitive Reactions to Famous Art, Dan Hill uses facial coding and eye tracking to observe how viewers look at artworks. Hill is the founder of Sensory Logic, a company that measures emotional responses to outside stimuli for market research purposes. BookLife spoke to Hill about what he has learned about human perception and emotion.

How did your interest in art develop?

When I turned six years old, our family moved to Italy for two years because my father had a posting there for the company 3M. It’s fair to say my interest in art started during those two years. For one thing, my mother ensured we went around to visit many of the great art museums. For another, I didn’t know Italian at first and often had to read my environment visually more so than verbally—and it was a very interesting new environment to take in. Finally, on the way back to America, we stopped in Holland, where I first fell in love with Rembrandt. I minored in art history in college, and, in my work as a market researcher, I continued to apply my interest in visuals to analyzing advertising for over 50% of the world’s top 100 companies marketing to consumers.

How did you conceive of First Blush?

I always wanted to use the two tools I specialized in for business—eye tracking to capture where exactly people look, and facial coding to read expressions and learn how people feel about what they’re seeing—applied to art rather than just helping sell, say, more baked beans. The specific inspiration was an article that mentioned people spending on average about 20 seconds per artwork in viewing them in a museum. That struck me as too long an estimate. So, on my next business trip to New York City, I spent the equivalent of about a day sitting in the Brooklyn Museum of Art, the Frick, and the Guggenheim observing visitors. My finding: on average, about four seconds to view an artwork, five seconds to read the title plate, and another one-second glance at an artwork before moving on. From that confirmation of my instincts, I became eager to go further and capture the “inside scoop” on how people really experience art.

How did you find participants and choose the works? How did you conduct research?

Eye tracking has been used in studying art, but, as best I could find, nobody went in-depth. My study is easily the largest ever of this kind, with 88 artworks and 96 demographically varied participants ranging from age eight to 80. Each person got 15 seconds to view an artwork, and halfway through that period I would say aloud the last name of the artist and the work’s title to simulate people reading the title plate in an art museum.

Choosing the artworks to include took a lot of investigation online and via art books. I started with the obviously most famous works. Then I wanted to have a strong dose of more contemporary works. Ensuring gender and racial diversity was important. So was my getting in some works from Africa and certainly Asia, for instance. I varied the mediums, integrating photography, sculpture, and ready-made pieces. Finally, I added in artists that would introduce a few interesting variables: figures who made the most money, were the most popular, and/or were the most critically acclaimed. Trying to spread the choices around by era was yet another factor. All in all, a very tricky proposition that left out some personal favorites, like Matisse.

What surprised you most?

I can’t say I was surprised that 80% of people’s visual attention and emotional responses centered on faces when they were a part of the composition. However, there were other strong findings, too. How does one’s gaze move through an artwork? The best bet is the lower middle as the starting point, with the four corners being a little like Outer Mongolia. The study confirmed that the vast majority of participants’ viewing and emotional involvement happened within the first four seconds. Other findings: vertically oriented compositions performed best; red was the most emotionally engaging color, and blue the most appealing, or most associated with positive emotions. Titles that were poetic or meaningful did well; those that were obscure or untitled were panned emotionally by my participants. In terms of titles, the single best performer was Mondrian’s Broadway Boogie Woogie. The title provided them with greater insight into the visual content. Now, the participants could see the Manhattan grid of streets, the yellow as taxi cabs, and the overall brightness as the lights of Broadway. Suddenly, participants really connected with an abstract piece.

Do you feel that the ability to intuitively see visual art is “learned out” of us as we age?

It might be. It’s striking that more time is spent in a museum on the title plate than the artwork itself. Yes, we’re seeking context, and I support that as an analyst! But, as an art lover, it’s a bit of a disappointment to think that maybe people are looking for more understanding or confirmation that such and such artwork is “important” as opposed to being absorbed by what one sees and responding accordingly.

What were the key takeaways? What do you hope readers gain?

My book is very, very visually oriented. It’s in four-color [printing], and the eye tracking results are shown in color based on what’s known in the trade as colorized “heat maps.” Reds and orange mean more gaze activity, green less, and no color could account for the parts of an artwork that the participants barely observed. So the key takeaway concerns what kind of content and composition elements draw people in. I think this “inside scoop” can be useful to practicing artists, to teachers, to museum curators laying out the next exhibit, and to the general art lover.

Is a purely emotional response to art as valid as a more critical response?

Certainly. The scientific estimate is that about 95% of our mental activity isn’t fully conscious. A lot of that activity goes to monitoring intuitively how our body is doing. But lots more goes to subconscious than conscious processing of the world around us and our experiences of it, including art. I’m as vulnerable as the next person to taking in the title plate and confirming this is such-and-such important artist to pay attention to in an art museum. But, at the same time, I often enter the next room and try to start by asking myself: what piece in this room grabs my eye and heart most?

A version of this article appeared in the 01/25/2021 issue of Publishers Weekly under the headline: Art to Heart

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In Gallery 1313's 'Lockdown Show,' John Ferri's art reflects the beginnings of optimism –



A year ago, our lives changed. We’ve endured isolation, changed our habits. Where once we walked through a lively bustling city, now we walk through quiet streets. It’s changed the way we see the world.

That is true, too, for artists. John Ferri, a former senior editor at the Star and now a vice-president at TVOntario, has been creating digital collage work, a composite of photography and digital design elements, for almost 10 years.

He says the pandemic has changed what he sees as he peers through the lens of his camera.

“I see more people alone, not sitting or walking in groups,” he said in an email exchange with the Star. “I think I’ve always been interested in the idea of being alone in a public space, of being isolated even in a crowd. Well, the crowds are gone. The artwork I’ve created over the last year no doubt reflects this.”

In the image, above, a single figure walks their dog. A path winds its way through zones that contain riots of colour and individual bubbles.

His art, he hopes, offers “a unique visual perspective that balances precision, whimsy, and a fascination with human movement,” he wrote in his comments for the show this work, called “Morning,” is featured in online at Gallery 1313. “This piece is a counterpoint to how we’re all feeling after a year of living with fear and isolation. I didn’t set out to create a feeling of hope and optimism, it just went there on its own.

“I believe that we are finding our way forward and out of this pandemic, and I hope that this piece captures the tenuous sense of optimism we’re all feeling.”

Though we might still walk alone, vaccines are coming. Spring is around the corner. As we venture outdoors, from beyond our own four walls, we are getting closer.

“The Lockdown Show” features a range of more than 60 artists from across the GTA who belong to the Gallery 1313 collective. You can find it online — — until the end of March.

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What are NFTs? Behind the crypto trend revolutionizing the art world – Toronto Star



The cherub looks like it’s ready to strike. Hovering idly in outer space, it points a hooked spear at the earth below and steadies its hand.

Grimes, the Canadian musician and visual artist, posted this unsettling image to an art auctioning site earlier in February. It’s part of a broader collection of digital artwork, called “WarNymphs,” that she codesigned with her brother.

Within hours of posting it online, hundreds of copies of the supersized demon baby had sold for $7,500 (U.S.) each. Total sales from her collection reached closer to $6 million.

At first, the frenzy may seem confounding. The image exists solely online. It’s not a physical painting or a photo. Those who bought it could easily have taken a screen grab and made it their desktop background for free.

Why spend all that money on a digital picture?

In short, the answer lies in a newly popular acronym: NFT.

Otherwise known as nonfungible tokens, NFTs are unique computer codes used to identify the authenticity of a digital item — often an image, animation or a video. The code is attached to the item to verify its originality, indicating which item is the original and which is a duplicate.

Items containing NFTs are bought and sold using blockchain, an online technology that records monetary transactions made in cryptocurrency.

To make this easier on the brain, think of “non-fungible” in terms of physical objects. A postcard of Vincent van Gogh’s “Starry Night,” for example, is fungible: swap it for another identical postcard and you have the exact same thing. The original “Starry Night,” however, is non-fungible: swap it for a replica and you no longer have the original.

The NFT distinguishes the real from the fake. How value is assigned to the original items is just as subjective as any other form of art.

“If you visit my living room, you’ll see original-sized pictures of Monet paintings. They’re really nice, and really fancy, but they’re clearly not actual Monet paintings,” explains Andreas Park, an associate professor of finance at the University of Toronto who researches cryptocurrency.

“If I could have the original, I’d be thrilled.”

In effect, the NFT has introduced the concept of originality to the online world.

For artists whose work exists solely in the digital world, it’s an opportunity to attach a monetary value to their work. For buyers, it’s an opportunity to support artists they like, and hold artwork as assets — hoping the value of the artwork goes up so it can be sold for a profit.

The trend has also benefited from the internet’s typical eccentricity. A clip of LeBron James dunking a basketball sold for $99,999. Pink socks sold for $60,000. An image of beans, scooped in a ladle, sold for $469. The proud new owners of these items can brag about holding the originals.

It’s also being taken seriously by companies hoping to get in on the trend. Christie’s, the famed British auction house, recently became the first major auctioneer to sell a digital, NFT-based artwork. The featured artist, a popular digital designer known as Beeple, made $3.5 million in a single weekend from Christie’s sales.

More recently, Kings of Leon announced their new album will be released as an NFT in partnership with a tech startup called Yellowheart.

Nike, meanwhile, holds a patent for “blockchain-based NFT-sneakers,” called Cryptokicks (a sentence that, as confusing as it is now, would be completely indecipherable to anyone 10 years ago).

In the art world, the rise of NFTs and crypto art has sprouted a wide array of new platforms and online marketplaces where people can buy and sell art as they please.

Grimes’ latest collection premiered on a website called Nifty Gateway, owned by serial entrepreneurs Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss (of “The Social Network” fame), which functions as an online marketplace where users can sell they art they’ve bought at a higher price. Not sure if they’re selling the original image? Check for an NFT.



Park, who’s followed the rise of blockchain and NFTs for the past several years, says the token is here to stay, though some of the recent excitement is likely temporary.

“Right now, there’s a sense of novelty that’s driving the appeal for NFT artwork. It’s like Beanie Babies: they were popular for a while, because people liked them, and then it died out,” he said.

“But, more broadly, this is a very useful record-keeping technology. It’s easy to imagine NFTs being used as proof of ownership for a variety of things in the future.”

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Bridging connections with online art | –



Rails End Gallery and Arts Centre seeks to help bridge the gaps between people with its first-ever online exhibition launched Feb. 27.

Titled “Connection,” the show presents submissions from its members, featuring a wide array of mediums. Besides a physical gallery still viewable at the centre under additional public protocols, it is also available on the centre’s website, with a guided virtual tour.

Curator Laurie Jones said she learned about the format from the Ontario Society of Artists and it was a way to improve access.

“Not everybody’s comfortable yet with being around, especially in public spaces,” Jones said.

The exhibition is an annual salon show, drawing from local talent, Jones said. The pandemic prompted the move to an online addition – and the theme for the show itself.

“It came up out of my own cravings for connections and missing people,” Jones said. “In many ways, we’re looking for alternate ways to connect.”

Artist Rosanna Dewey’s exhibition piece depicts one of those ways. It is an oil painting entitled “Zoom Room” depicting a call on the online meeting platform. She said the show’s theme was poignant.

“It’s so hard to be connected,” Dewey said. “It really made me think about what was going on and what my connections were.”

She said she had some skepticism about the online concept but found it turned out appealing.

“You want to be able to get up close to the artwork and you get more of a sense of the piece,” Dewey said. “But I found that people were still interested. People still needed to go and experience art, even if it was through a Zoom format.”

Arts and Crafts Festival on pause

But the community will miss one big way to connect with art in the summer. The Haliburton Art and Craft Festival – the gallery’s flagship event and fundraiser – is cancelled for the second straight year due to the pandemic, Jones said. She said it would be too logistically challenging to ensure safety amidst the pandemic.

“We don’t want to introduce any risk to our volunteers or staff or vendors or patrons,” Jones said. “Maintaining sanitary conditions would be impossible.”

Jones said the centre needs to decide early to inform artists and give them time to plan. She said there might be alternate programming, but that is being worked out.

For now, the Rails End is still putting on exhibitions and bringing arts to the community.



“We’re not trying to sell anything. We’re trying to provide an experience,” Jones said. “Hopefully, they feel the connection with the creative arts.”

“Connection” runs until April 17 and is available at the centre itself or

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