Seeing Things (1)
January 2, 2008
This is the first in a series of personal observations about how people experience and explore museums.
In the museum, I like to take some time away from looking at the art to look at people, especially people when they’re looking at art. Almost everybody today seems to have a cell phone camera with them as they wander the galleries, looking for something that catches the eye. There goes one flash and then another. It’s a mild kind of light but still. I wonder how deeply people look at art here at SAAM and in other museums and galleries. Is looking becoming a kind of lost art? Last weekend at MOMA in NYC I sat in the Monet room and the water lilies were snapped and snapped. Flashes went off constantly. I always thought that flash was not good for paintings, but that's not the case. At SAAM, our permanent collection can be photographed with flash as our conservators have determined that it will not hurt the objects.
Now I see people looking through their phones in order to frame a painting or a detail. It’s the way they stand with the camera/phone not to their eye, but a foot or so in front of them. Both in DC and NY I notice that Warhol’s Marilyn gets a lot of cell phone play. So, you’re sitting at your desk at work and you get a beep that says you’ve got an image waiting for you. Surprise, it’s Marilyn Monroe as interpreted by Warhol: icon meets icon meets iPhone. But getting back to the people in the room looking through a lens to look at a work of art. I can’t help but wonder if something is lost when rather than really looking, we spend our time trying to convert canvas to wallpaper.
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