At Large  July 21, 2021  Anna Claire Mauney

Project ShareArt uses AI to Gauge How Attractive Art Is

Italy’s Project ShareArt will collect data on the “attraction value” of particular artworks and enforce COVID-19 guidelines through a combination of artificial intelligence, big data applications, and cameras pointed at guests. The project was installed and premiered in early July 2021—just as Italian art museums began to reopen—at Istituzione Bologna Musei, where fourteen ShareArt devices currently reside.

According to the country’s National Agency for New Technologies, Energy and Sustainable Economic Development (or ENEA), the advanced system can evaluate a work of art based on several indicators obtained from recorded footage. These include but are not limited to the distance at which a viewer stands, the duration of observation, and even the direction of a viewer’s gaze.

Courtesy of the ENEA and Istituzione Bologna Musei.

A ShareArt device next to two paintings (Left: Pietro Desani, San Giovanni a Pathmos, c 1620-1625; Right: Maestro del Lume di Candela, San Sebastiano curato da Irene e dalle pie donne, c 1620-1630.) in the Istituzione Bologna Musei.


Because the program is able to detect distance, it will also monitor the distance between guests and, if any two people stand too close for local COVID jurisdictions, the device will flash a reminder. It will also watch for diligent mask-wearing—something which, perhaps to the chagrin of researchers, will prevent the system from evaluating the facial expressions of guests for the time being.

According to a statement released by the ENEA, the data acquisition devices used in the ShareArt Project are apparently available to general consumers at a low cost. Perhaps this accessibility will lead to a widespread adoption of similar programs in new or growing art spaces that may particularly benefit from such curatorial insight.

Courtesy of the ENEA and Istituzione Bologna Musei.

Jacopo di Paolo, Annunciazione, c 1390. Istituzione Bologna Musei, Bologna, Italy.

Though the public seems interested in the project’s concept, there are many concerns about privacy. While these are difficult to quell, questions regarding technology’s capacity to truly determine the attractiveness of a piece of art seem easier to address. And this is largely due to the fact that Project ShareArt is not aiming to find one right answer. There is no single key that will unlock the secrets of attractive art. Rather, researchers seek to uncover and examine important trends and patterns. 

For example, according to a Bloomberg City Lab interview with researchers behind the project, few artworks “keep museum or gallery visitors ‘glued’ to the spot for more than 15 seconds.” The average is apparently closer to 4 to 5 seconds. Bologna Musei President Roberto Grandi also told the publication that viewers of a fourteenth-century diptych by Vitale degli Equi largely focused on the artwork’s busier, right-side panel.

About the Author

Anna Claire Mauney

Anna Claire Mauney is the former managing editor for Art & Object. A writer and artist living in North Carolina, she is interested in illustration, the 18th-century, and viceregal South America. She is also the co-host of An Obsessive Nature, a podcast about writing and pop culture.

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