“Building a Bridge to the Aesthetic Experience: Artistic Virtual Environments and Other Interactive Digital Art” by Betz, Crockett, Davis and Sparacino

  • ©Brian Betz, Tobey Crockett, Juliet Davis, and Flavia Sparacino



Entry Number: 01


    Building a Bridge to the Aesthetic Experience: Artistic Virtual Environments and Other Interactive Digital Art





    Most artists, curators, and museum educators share an important common goal: to create or curate art that viewers can appreciate and enjoy. Ideally, they also want viewers to enter an experience that is immersive and builds a connection with the work beyond the surface of the media. This experience, often referred to as the aesthetic experience, is an instant in which a person may feel “…A combination of interest and pleasure and curiosity…The moment is one of heightened attention to perception, which is what makes it both meaningful and memorable” (Walsh-Piper, 1994, p. 105). For some this means getting lost in the visual elements, and for others it is highly emotional. Although complex and multifaceted, the aesthetic experience for a viewer may be characterized by a finely tuned state of consciousness, or an experience in which the person is in awe, intensely focused, and in pure enjoyment (Dewey, 1934; Csikszentmihalyi & Robinson, 1990a). Csikszentmihalyi also refers to this state as the flow experience (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990b). There are many people who feel that physical interactivity in the form of Virtual Environments (VE) or other digital technology may facilitate the aesthetic experience for the viewer.

    Since the early developments of VE technology, artists have used it to create artistic virtual environments (AVEs). AVEs are a relatively new medium with new aesthetic, creative, and intellectual problems to solve and questions to ask. In particular, how do AVEs and art that incorporates other kinds of digital interactivity relate to the aesthetic experience? Some might feel that our culture, in general, might feel distant from many traditional art forms and that this technology may build a bridge to artistic understanding. In other words, does VE and other digital technology speak a contemporary language, one that reaches a now digitally savvy youth?

    Still others feel that this equipment not only does nothing to bring participants closer to a flow experience, but they feel that the complexity, expense, and accessibility of this genre of installations may confuse and shy viewers away. Certainly, the goal of most artists is not to make art for the sake of a given medium. Instead they want to express something and the medium they choose happens to advance that message in the best and most comfortable way.

    This panel does not seek to discuss the validity of AVEs and digital installations as an art form. Rather it will be a debate on the effectiveness of this technology to help the viewer experience art in a richer way. Panelists will discuss theory, experiences of narratives written by the participants, interviews, the artwork itself, surveys, and field notes from researcher observations.

    The quantitative portion of our research has involved a variety of assessment measures to explore subjects’ interpretation of AVEs. For example, in each of our quantitative studies we have administered the Sense of Presence Inventory (Lessiter, Freeman, Keogh, and Davidoff, 2000) and to test for individual differences in subjects we have administered the Absorption Scale (Tellegen, 1983). In a typical study subjects interact with a desktop version of an AVE and then a post-experimental questionnaire is administered.

    Our findings indicate a connection between psychological presence and the aesthetic experience. In short, subjects who indicate a high level of presence in an AVE are also more likely to describe their encounter with the artwork in terms of an aesthetic experience. In addition, we have found that certain personality and cognitive factors mediate the interpretation of virtual environments. As mentioned above we have attempted to use our findings to guide the art creation process. It is hoped that our research might guide other artists in their use of virtual environments as a means of artistic expression.


    • Bogdan, R. C., and Biklen, S. K. (1992). Qualitative Research for Education. Boston: Allyn and Bacon. 
    • Hirschman, E., (1983). On the acquisition of aesthetic, escapist, and agentic experiences. Empirical Studies of the Arts, Vol 1(2), 157-172


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