I take selfies in museums. Sue me.

After additional reflection on the entire question of “how to appreciate art the right way” I came to the conclusion that there is nothing wrong with selfies taken within the exhibition space.

I get it. I understand that it must seem odd how some museum visitors see the act of taking pictures of the art as more important than looking at the actual art piece. As mentioned in this former post I disagree on saying there is only one true way to experience art. Today I want to discuss the potential benefits of pictures taken within an art show.

First of all I want to state that I hate the idea of art as something sacred and holy that you are not allowed to handle with normal manner. There is no choir singing in the background while I look at art and I do not have to wait until a rush of emotions is running through my mortal body because I just have been struck with a divine god given enlightenment. Calm down crazy.

Along with the critique of the – as often called – unworthy or wrong visitor comes also the critique on technology as well. Cell phones and social media are supposed to be the reason why people spent less time looking at art. An article on artsy by Isaac Kaplan from 2017 discusses the question if cell phones had an impact on how long people look at art.

These results suggest that cell phones haven’t changed the amount of time people spend in front of art that drastically. The big difference the study found was the birth of selfies—or “arties,” selfies taken with artworks, […] Two people were taking so many “arties” that they had to be excluded from the study, because they weren’t even looking at the art.

So does the act of taking selfies decrease the overall art experience? Not necessarily. If you are not like the two people who didn’t look at the piece at all, it is fine. Kaplan mentions in his article two studies by Lisa F. Smith and Jeffrey K. Smith who came to a similar conclusion: The average time spent in front of artwork was less than one minute. If you don’t live in New York and have the rare opportunity to visit the MoMA you obviously want to see as many pieces as possible instead of sitting awestruck in front of a few. Also, your body has its limit and spending 6h in a museum is tough.

That said I want to come back to selfies/arties. The fact that somebody did take a selfie in the exhibition space does not tell you how much time that person spent looking at the art. Also spending less time in front of art does not mean less appreciation either. There is no evidence to that –  apart from your personal judgemental position. As long as there is no photo prohibition there is nothing wrong with taking selfies.

I also dare to say that selfies or even #ootd in museums are a good thing. In a time where social media and influencers are big players in marketing, you have to admit that any uploaded picture is free advertisement for the artist/museum/gallery/show. It is no breaking news that many well-established institutions do struggle financially despite their high-quality art collection and I think whoever cares for museums should be thankful that these houses can pay their guards.

Promoting art institutions as an influencer is an idea that I like a lot. Art is for me, not some God-given miracle and as long as nobody violates any rules or laws I don’t see it too problematic. The expectation that you should be able to talk about art in some phoney way or need a certain level of intellect to enjoy a museum the right way is a.) pretentious and b.) excluding a lot of people. And this is a problem because art is no privilege for the elite.

Dealing respectfully with a piece of work does not mean that you are unable to use it for your own purposes – meaning I will take pictures of it as an addition for my own body of work or use it to make a point. It is needless to say that art experience in our time is not solely visual anymore. Just to name a few: Erwin Wurm, Tino Sehgal, Andrea Fraser, Pierre Huyghe and also Signe Pierce are all artists who work with pieces that demand more from the visitor. Taking selfies or pictures in general by yourself is a way experience art as well and maybe even better than solemnly stare at a piece forever.

Say Cheeeeese!

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