Art experience in VR: A question of ecological validity

Dragan Janković

Presentation of art through digital media, mostly on computer screens or more recently in virtual reality (VR) environments, is becoming increasingly ubiquitous in modern society. Art and artefacts of cultural heritage are being digitized at an unprecedented rate and presented to the public worldwide. However, viewing artworks in different real-world or digital media contexts can lead to differences in aesthetic and affective experience of artworks. Recent developments of digital technologies in the field of virtual reality, like VR galleries/museums, have opened up innovative ways to present art, but also to study art experience in realistically simulated art-related contexts. In the present talk I will present results of several experiments that aimed at comparing art experience in VR museums with ordinary displayed museum contexts in order to test the VR for ecological validity. More precisely, we compared the structure and intensity of aesthetic and affective experiences of artworks exhibited in the fully immersive VR museum/gallery environment with the experience of the same artworks exhibited on the computer screen or in the real-world (physical gallery) settings. The findings of these studies suggested that presenting art in VR galleries and museums can be an adequate alternative to real-world settings leading to similar aesthetic and affective experiences. On the other hand, by comparison to today’s ubiquitous presentations of artworks in the form of digital images on computer screens, presenting art in VR galleries and museums shows significantly better performance both in the domains of aesthetics and of the affective experience of artworks. We conclude that VR galleries and museums can be an ecologically valid environment for exhibiting visual art and a useful tool for future research into art experience.