Artists and the Public's Attention Since the 1960s: An Exploration of How Artists Seek to Capture the Audience's Attention


  • Patrick van Rossem



Mass Audience, Attention, Performativity, Contemporary Art


Art historical research shows that artists, especially since the 1960s rise in museum and art gallery attendance do not always trust the audience’s ability to deal with their art. The choice for a performative aesthetic, for example, has also been a method for reasserting rather than—as is often thought—relinquishing artistic control. The article looks at aesthetic strategies developed by artists who desire(d) a more attentive look from their audiences. It considers works made by artists in the sixties and seventies. It is a fact that the appearance of mass audiences goes hand in hand with the creation of artworks that have “attention” as their subject. Secondly, the article takes a look at more contemporary work. Faced with spectators that spend about 28 seconds looking at artworks and reading the accompanying labels, artists are developing strategies that slow spectators down, thus hoping to channel and hold their attention.

Author Biography

Patrick van Rossem

Patrick van Rossem is associate professor of modern and contemporary art inthe Art History Department at Utrecht University. He studied art history at Ghent University and curating at Goldsmiths College, University of London. He researches the representation of audiences, artists’ opinions on the presence of audiences and the aesthetics of the performative turn. He published amongst others “Getting Up-close and Personal with Aunt May and Uncle Jim: How to deal with your audience in the 1960s” (Performance Research, 22, 2017) and “Beyond Expert vision: Visitor Photography as Inspiration” (Museums and Visitor Photography, Edinburgh & Boston, MuseumEtc, 2016).


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How to Cite

van Rossem, P. (2023). Artists and the Public’s Attention Since the 1960s: An Exploration of How Artists Seek to Capture the Audience’s Attention. The Nordic Journal of Aesthetics, 32(65).