Written by Tori Smith, Public Relations and Social Media Assistant 

When visitors walk through the different galleries of DOMA, their eyes adjust to different types of lighting within them. Through the Quad doors and into the open lobby, they’re met with bright colors and muted sunlight coming from the ceiling. In Africa, dim lights warm the masks that are brightly featured in the glass cases. Walking through United States and Europe might feel the most “normal” for a visitor’s eyes. How does light affect art, does it affect experience, and how can you protect the damage? 

Effects of light exposure to art 

According to the National Gallery of Art, exposure to light can potentially cause irreversible change to certain works of art – either through radiant heating or photochemical action, a chemical change at the molecular level. Radiant heat could cause cracking, lifting and discoloration. The sources for photochemical action come from the electromagnetic spectrum beyond visible light, including ultraviolet light and infrared light.  

According to the American Institue of Conservation (AIC), the most common type of damage is the fading of dyes and pigments. But other damaging effects could include color changes in pigments and bleaching of wood artifacts. 

Does lighting affect the way we view art? 

In 2019, the Frontiers in Psychology conducted two studies that examined what different gallery lighting conditions did for the emotional responses of participants. In the first study, it presented a gallery-like experience where a lighting system allowed for a minute adjustment. They viewed a selection of original and abstract art under three different lightning intensities and temperatures.  

In the second study, it questioned whether artworks made by an artist match the lighting condition of its viewers or its artist.  

Both studies found that lighting did not appear to make a difference in the viewer’s emotions. The only significant finding involved was the effect of lighting on negative emotions felt with abstract art. 

Color constancy

According to the National Library of Medicine, color constancy is when objects tend to appear the same color under changes in illumination. It’s most likely achieved by several mechanisms, operating at different levels in the visual system. 

How to protect art from damaging light 

According to the AIC, lighting is separated into two general categories: ambient lighting and task lighting. A few methods for reducing the total light exposure are decreasing the number of light fixtures, decreasing the wattage of bulbs, and using light dimmers. A few methods to decrease eliminating UV light are using low UV light fixtures, eliminating daylight, and applying UV absorbent varnishes to window glasses.  

There are ways of testing to see how light exposure will damage a work of art, and one of those processes is called microfadeometry. According to the Getty Conservation Institute, microfadeometry is the technique of using a tiny spot of very intense light to measure color changes in individual objects of art that are sensitive to light exposure. Other risk factors could include temperature, relative humidity, pollutants and security. 

As always, thank you for reading the DOMA Insider! DOMA is free and open to the public; we are open Tuesday – Friday 9:00 a.m. – 4:30 p.m., and Saturday from 1:30 p.m. – 4:30 p.m. Check out our website at https://www.bsu.edu/doma.