The article Older People learning through Contemporary Visual Art—Engagement and Barriers by Anna Goulding offered insight into data collection and analysis for my research topic on the affordances and limitations of engaging with art. The author’s research questions echoed the art and engagement components in my topic. She asked the questions:

  • How do older people understand and engage with art in the art gallery?
  • How can psychological barriers to engagement be overcome by pedagogical approaches?

The differences from our topic questions is that an older participant pool is used and the setting is an art gallery. My participant pool is not limited to a particular age range and my setting is a spiritual center. However, the methods for data collections were very similar to what I plan on using.

contemporary art

Goulding clearly defined the participant pool as 43 elderly participants from a variety of backgrounds and physical abilities. The group was given three guided art tours, which ended with discussions around the art pieces. For data collection purposes a baseline interview was performed, followed by semi-structured interviews after each of the three guided tours. All the interviews were sound recorded and transcribed, then coded for analysis using NVivo 8 software.

Baseline Interviews

  • age
  • gender
  • partner status
  • parental status
  • housing
  • previous occupation
  • educational qualifications

Semi-structured Interviews

  • participant led discussion based upon art interests
  • captured subtle shifts in affect over the course of the project

Goulding’s findings tend to mimic larger trends from my previous scholarly critiques; art engagement is largely motivated by the desire to be social and to learn something new. To explore trends in limitations it seems that fear is a major factor. To be more specific about Goulding’s research, here are summarized answers to the research questions as related to my topic of art engagement affordances and limitation.

When asked, “How do older people understand and engage with art in the art gallery?” participants responded that they:

  • valued discussing the ideas presented
  • expressed strong reactions to the exhibitions
  • thought support from peers was important
  • were stimulated to reminisce and self reflect
  • engaged with art in order to keep stimulated
  • noted the problem of relatively short research timeframes

When asked, “How can psychological barriers to engagement be overcome by pedagogical approaches?” some participants responded that they:

  • did not feel intelligent enough to understand exhibitions
  • were reluctant to take part in the project due to preferred isolation
  • felt the research format increased their confidence to participate
  • commented on the effectiveness of personal interpretation

Ultimately the largest challenge with data analysis in the arts is that it is hard to truly understand the complex web of motivation and barriers. I plan to further explore the arts council and “why” people are motivated or limited by art engagement. 


Goulding, A. (2013) Older People Learning through Contemporary Visual Art—Engagement and Barriers, International Journal of Art & Design Education, Vol. 32, Issue 1, pp. 18-32

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