‘There have been a number of surveys of how visitors interact with paintings in museums. One found that an average viewer goes up to a painting, looks at it for less than two seconds, reads the wall text for another 10 seconds, glances at the painting to verify something in the text, and moves on. Another survey concluded people looked for a median time of 17 seconds. The Louvre found that people looked at the Mona Lisa an average of 15 seconds, which makes you wonder how long they spend on the other 35,000 works in the collection. A survey at the Metropolitan Museum of Art supposedly found that people look at artworks for an average of 32.5 seconds each, but they must not have counted the ones people glance at.’
James Elkins (Art Institute of Chicago}
In his essay Looking at Pictures, David Hockney draws a parallel with words on a page of text: it is necessary to go beyond the pattern of marks/letters on the surface to understand their meaning.
He quotes the lines of the poet George Herbert:
‘A man that looks on glass
on it may stay his eye,
Or if he pleaseth, through it pass
and then the heav’n espie’.