About time museums figured this out
Deborah Solomon writes:
Nonetheless, the vogue for digital photography is a constructive development that, for the most part, enhances our experience of art. First, there is the eye factor. A visitor who photographs van Gogh’s “Starry Night” echoes, however wanly or casually, the basic mission of visual art: to celebrate the act of looking. When you gaze through a lens, you are likely to consider the world more deeply. You frame space and take note of composition, the curve of a line, the play of light and shadow. As the photographer Dorothea Lange noted, “The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera.”
As an aid to art education, smartphone cameras are preferable to older devices. Consider Acoustiguides, which offer a blizzard of facts in the place of soulful communication and create a buzzing sound in the galleries that can cause you to wonder, “Am I hearing voices?”
Unlike Acoustiguides, photographs go home with you and offer long-term benefits. For art-history students, iPhone photographs are an earnest reference aid, a crystalline substitute for hard-to-decipher notes.
For everyone else, digital photographs work in much the same way as art postcards did in their heyday a half-century ago when museum gift shops devoted more display space to them. On a recent trip to the Museum of Modern Art, I admired a plastic handbag in the gift shop, peeked at the price — $595, an Issey Miyake! — and ached for the humble Picasso postcards of my childhood.
Astoundingly, there are still a handful of museums that prohibit photography altogether.
(click here to continue reading Hey ‘Starry Night,’ Say ‘Cheese!’ – NYTimes.com.)
Speaking for myself, I like to take photographs of paintings and other museum pieces occasionally, to study the art at my leisure, or otherwise use the photograph as a memory guide. I try to be respectful of other patrons, and of course, not use flash – which some have plausibly asserted will damage an artwork over time. Some museums are simply unfriendly to photographers however, and treat patrons as criminals or vandals in need of a stern lecture.
Ms. Solomon continues:
Museums have lately begun to rethink loan contracts and to encourage lenders to be less possessive with their artwork. “In the past year we have been making strides to loosen our policy,” Maxwell L. Anderson, the director of the Dallas Museum of Art, noted in an e-mail. “We now routinely attempt to negotiate with all of our lenders to allow photography of their works while on display in the galleries. We have included that express permission in our own loan letters and contracts.” The change, he notes, should put an end to confrontations between guards and visitors. “It is far more important for our gallery attendants to focus on the safety of the works of art and our visitors than to have to constantly admonish our visitors, ‘No photographs!’ ”
As subtle as that point may seem, the new loan arrangements represent a sea change. Or rather a see change. We are at the tipping point where art museums are poised to become copying centers whose every single artwork can be reproduced in digital form a million times every day.
I say hooray. When we photograph, e-mail, tweet and Instagram paintings, we capitalize on technological innovation to expand familiarity with an ancient form. So, too, we increase the visual literacy of this country. Much can be gained. Nothing can be lost. A photograph of a painting can no more destroy a masterpiece than it can create one.