Rating the Pleasantness of Touch at the Walters Art Gallery at Centre & Cathedral

Oh, it was another beautiful day in Baltimore, and I spent much of it in bed reading until finally the sun insisted I get my little self out and on my bike for a ride. I headed over to Hampden for brunch and then took the Jones Falls Trail toward downtown for a quick turn through the Walters Art Museum. I found myself in this new exhibit they’ve got on touch and Renaissance statuettes, a joint venture by the museum and a Johns Hopkins neuroscientist‘s research project on tactility and the brain. Or something. Everything at the museum is all Please Do Not Touch, but this exhibit wants us to touch different things and then rate that touch and a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being most pleasant, by way of an iPad with images, but don’t be swayed by images. I found the whole thing terrifically confusing. I mean, things feel soft, hard, cold, warm, sharp, smooth, but not really “pleasantness,” and certainly not when I’m touching neutral objects, and I’m hardly able to isolate senses, touch from vision. And yet there I was, at each station, touching and feeling and rating. Turns out I find smooth items that are about the size of my hand quite pleasant. Thanks, museum exhibit, for making me think about art and sensation differently, even if I’m still skeptical that “pleasantness” can be decoded by brain science. I wandered through much of the rest of the museum, not touching anything, before getting back on the bike and riding down to Fells Point for gelato and a water view. Taste sensation sated and time to head back up the hill to home.

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