What makes an image memorable?

In our selfie, snap-chat, Instagram obsessed world we are asking what makes an image memorable? Or perhaps not necessarily memorable but one that has a permanence, a presence that will stick in our minds for more than a few seconds of scrolling through Facebook and Twitter. In a recent Royal Academy of Arts article People Like Pictures – They won’t go away David Hockney and Martin Gayford  discuss the impact of digital technology on the arts. It’s a fascinating read about what makes art and images gallery-worthy and what gives certain pieces a permanence that the vast majority of creations will never get.

If you’re reading our blog then you probably have some interest in design, arts, images and creativity. And like us you’ve probably spent many a happy afternoon wandering around galleries, flicking through large format coffee-table art books and probably whiled away many hours on Pinterest and Instagram looking for ideas and inspiration. You’ve probably seen thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of images but how many of those now are you able to recall? Which of these images stand out in your memory?

If you were to put two people in the same gallery and then ask them which piece was the most memorable, you would expect them to give you two different answers, because art is subjective right? Surely it’s inevitable that your personal experiences throughout life, your personal preferences for situations, colours and atmosphere will also impact how you respond to an image? It’s very much an emotive response. However, are there certain elements that help to make an image have that sense of presence that will stick in your mind for years to come?

We thought that there probably was some science and psychology behind image permanence and so after a little bit of digging around the internet we found that the clever folks at MIT have written a paper on Understanding the intrinsic memorability of images. The research suggests that there are certain factors that make some images intrinsically more memorable than others independent of personal reference, bias and subjectivity. The research says that quality, saliency, attractiveness, composition, color harmony and object importance are well documented throughout literature as assisting in memorability but the MIT researchers have been looking at a number of other features too. The research goes into a lot of detail about these features and attributes but concludes:

…images of enclosed spaces containing people with visible faces are memorable, while images of vistas and peaceful settings are not. Contrary to popular belief, unusu- alness and aesthetic beauty attributes are not associated with high memorability – in fact, they are negatively correlated with memorability – and these attributes are not among our top few selections, indicating that other features more concisely describe memorability.

So what do you think makes an image or piece of art memorable? And do you have a favourite stand-out piece that will stay in your mind forever? We’d love to know what you think and also what you your most memorable piece is by commenting below.

EMC Design’s Creative Services team source engaging creative content that enhances published materials; from photos to illustrations, animations and much more. Contact the team to see how we can help you.

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