Marketing, The Curiosity Gap, and Art School

curiosity gap mind the gap

Why The Curiosity Gap Isn’t New, and What That Has To Do With My Art School Experience

Here’s a kind of meandering stream of consciousness.

A while back I had a conversation with my good friend Jennifer Cario (author of Pinterest Marketing An Hour A Day, and President of Sugar Spun Marketing.)

We were talking about The Curiosity Gap, and how it works in art and marketing (and the art of marketing. And probably the marketing of art.)

And I made this connection.

The Curiosity Gap, if you don’t know (and you should, and probably do because you’ve probably been motivated by it just today) is not a new thing.

This Wired article from 2010 gives a great primer on the psychology and history behind the phenomenon. It goes back to George Loewenstein’s work on what he called “The Information Gap” at Carnegie-Melon in the 1990’s.

Essentially, The Curiosity Gap happens when as a reader or viewer we sense a gap “between what we know and what we want to know”.

It’s a part of that hard-wired storytelling gene we seem to have as humans that’s become so critical to marketing in recent years, as we’ve moved from “selling stuff” to “generating curiosity and trust.”

We associate The Curiosity Gap with clickbait headlines now… and there even were unfounded rumors of its death. Clearly not the case, if you’ve looked at your Facebook feed lately.

This Atlantic article from 2014 talked about how UpWorthy had essentially perfected The Curiosity Gap as clickbait content marketing, and that maybe it had run its course.

“…descriptive headlines—ones that tell you exactly what the content is—are starting to win out over Upworthy’s signature “curiosity gap” headlines, which tease you by withholding details. (‘She Has a Horrifying Story to Tell. Except It Isn’t Actually True. Except It Actually Is True.’)”

So no, curiosity is not dead. Not at all.

It still works. It’s still legit. It’s a tool of the clickbait marketer, but it’s not merely a clickbait tactic.

The Part Where Art Comes In

Anyhoo, I was talking with Jen, and I remarked that it all seemed very much related to what we called “closure” in art school.

Not “closure” like “I feel our issues are resolved” closure, but “closure” like leaving the audience with the responsibility to provide info on their own to complete the artistic experience.

At its simplest, in visual art, it has to do with leaving information out of an image…


Closure operating: the viewer has to provide closure to complete the image… the subconscious wants completion.


Closure not operating: the viewer gets all the info they need.

It’s kind of counter-intuitive, since you’d imagine that if a picture “had closure” it would be complete.

On the more complex side, of course, is conceptual closure… is the “theme” or “message” of the art explicit and “on the nose” (as we’d say in screenplay dialog), or does it require interpretation? Does the viewer have to bring their own life experience to it to complete the emotional or communicative intent?

Closing The Loop

All this, of course, loops back around to The Curiosity Gap and how it relates to the inherent human desire for closure or completion or “story” (we are prone to find story in any series of events…) … so if a piece of content starts the story — presents act one and act two — we’re unconsciously driven to complete the story; to provide “closure.”

Headlines that don’t leave that opportunity for participation are less attractive to us psychically.

Visual art, Literature, film, and marketing all work off the same hardwired human need to “complete the pattern,” “close the loop,” or “finish the story.”

No big revelations here, just an ongoing fascination with storytelling, art, marketing, and how human beings work.

Cool stuff.

Here’s an article Jen wrote up on The Curiosity Gap a while back. Check it out!

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