Raw, adjective: 11. unprocessed or unevaluated: raw data

PET PEEVE: Museum camera-fiends

You know when you finally roll up to (the Louvre) (the MOMA) (the Guggenheim) and you consult your handy-dandy guidebook for the exact location of (the Mona Lisa) (Monet's waterlilies) (Van Gogh's sunflowers) and you find it and lumber up there with the gathering herds who are also headed past hundreds of years' and millions of dollars' worth of really stellar art only to see this one piece that their sophomore-year art history T.A. told them really "matters" in the history of the universe?

And you finally get to that sacred room where the painting's all cordoned off on the far wall with red velvet ropes and clear protectors and six bored-looking security guards who are checking their watches, and it turns out that it's really tiny and kind of drab and seemingly inconsequential, but there's everyone whispering around it in various hushed tones speaking in a million different languages and they're all snapping away with (flashless) cameras so they can go home to Peoria or Liverpool and tell Grandma that they saw (the Mona Lisa) (Monet's waterlilies) (Van Gogh's sunflowers) and it was well, definitely life-changing and remarkable and honestly, if they're totally frank with themselves, kind of small and wimpy and meh?

Yeah. Pet peeve of pet peeves. Seriously. I can't handle it. The first time I walked into the Louvre and meandered my way through all the armless marbles to the Mona Lisa, my mouth filled with the taste of absolute disgust at all the buzzing hordes snapping away, and I took one glance at the poor lonely secret-keeping Mona and walked on by.

Social theorists talk about the politics of The Gaze, of seeing versus being seen, of invisibility and visibility and taking-in versus processing and what-have-you. In people, in real-life interactions, it's all a complicated whirlwind of fascinating concepts, politically-laden and power-rich. In art, it's even more interesting, though, and to me, more distressing. There's nothing that pisses me off more than people who care more about establishing the evidence that they "saw" a landmark piece of art than actually "seeing it."

The NYT has a quick little piece today highlighting this annoying phenomenon. Michael Kimmelman writes about the fact that, in recent art history,
Cameras replaced sketching by the last century; convenience trumped engagement, the viewfinder afforded emotional distance and many people no longer felt the same urgency to look. It became possible to imagine that because a reproduction of an image was safely squirreled away in a camera or cell phone, or because it was eternally available on the Web, dawdling before an original was a waste of time, especially with so much ground to cover.
Kimmelman laments this efficiency-first method of consuming art. He calls for a return to seeing, a revisiting of the old-school sketchbooks, the kind of dawdling that museums are meant for, the "sitting with" a piece of art long enough for it to unfurl a bit around you, take on different colors and moods.*

Kimmelman suggests that "slow looking, like slow cooking, may yet become the new radical chic." Love this. Read the article. Sit still in an art museum the next time you go. (That's why there are benches.) Put the goddamned camera away. And just remember it.

At the Louvre, Many Stop to Snap but Few Stay to Focus (NYT)

* Need I emphasize the whole yogic nature of this "sitting with," this observing? No, you got that already? Great, I thought so.


Jess(ica) said…
Ugh. Agreed. The only time I ever took a picture in an art museum was at the Musee D'Orsay, where the main hall is observable from above. You see the old train station architecture dotted with art. Beautiful. But I never understood taking pictures of art. It's the piece itself, the texture, the colors, the angles, etc., that are supposed to be observed in person, not captured through a camera lens. The power of art is in observing it firsthand. That's why people travel to museums. If you want a picture, just google it!
Alicia said…
I'm right there with you. I tried to go to the Art Institute of Chicago with my kids because of their fantastic impressionist collection. 246 rooms and I had to blaze through like a bat out of hell. Had I gotten my way I would have parked it on a bench or two for hours to take it all in. My trip to the Picasso Museum in October will be totally solo.
freelancer said…
I enjoy taking pictures of sculptures. That's about it. I read that article (before I saw your post) and I think I may buy myself a sketch book.

I really thought I was going to get through a whole post without a mention of yoga. Maybe next time. :)

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