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Seeing Things (1)
January 2, 2008

This is the first in a series of personal observations about how people experience and explore museums.

Cell Phone photo in SAAM's galleries

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.

Posted by Howard on January 2, 2008 in Museums & Technology, Seeing Things


I wonder also. As a new and learning self-taught art student (drawing/sketching), I now have a much better appreciation for techniques used and what it might have taken to create various pieces. I think many people look at something "flatly" and just think oh it looks nice. Sometimes you have to be alone on these trips so you can really take the time to look at a piece and think about how it affects you, does it inspire you, what does it tell you about the artist? Just a thought.

I am an addicted blogger and it has definitely made see some things I was oblivious to before - but you make a great point - it's one thing to capture a moment and quite another to "truly appreciate it" - as someone who appreciates art you've given me something to step back and think about - thanks!

Imagine the cellphones as megaphones.

Steve: I agree that it takes time to get involved with a piece, but when it clicks, it's a great, silent dialogue between you and the work of art. Good luck with the drawing/sketching and thanks for sharing your ideas.


You're welcome! Come back and visit us again soon.



I think there's nothing like seeing the real thing, Photographs do not express the painting's true meaning.

I used to love going to museums as a kid. It has been years since I have gone. I don't think I have ever thought about taking a shot from a cell phone. This really would not capture the image in it's best light. Just my opinion.

Howard, I myself am a walking paradox...I detest cell phones and some technology and that seem to take away from the human experience. That itself is a paradox. Cell phones were shown to spread art from cell to cell in an office or other situation, yet you know how I feel as an educator and cell phones, or a driver and cell phones, or a Naturalist and cell phone, (laughing).....

There is no substitute for a picture as to the quiet and solitude an Art Museum offers, and I cannot say I speak from experience, I remember the few times I was lucky to be able to enter the American Art and admire the people and the art take a pic of that to others is exciting regarding a cell phone, but by no means a substitute for the walk...

I am a huge user of technology in the class but also like to present the non technology track so students can appreciate both, used the correct way, the SAAM and all musueums can actually do the same thing, who knows, maybe creating a a new respect for use of cell phones?....Just maybe...(laughing)

Thanks for your discussions!

Harry in Delaware

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