Put Down the Camera: The Key to Enjoying Museums

STORY BY Candace Bryan

Published: May 21, 2013

If you’ve been to any art museum in your life, chances are you’ve experienced the disappointment one feels when reading a “no photography allowed” sign. One might say that this is a result of our internet-generation’s need to photograph and share everything that happens in our lives. But honestly, before social media existed, I remember as a child wanting to snap photos with my disposable cameras as memories of whatever vacation or trip I was on, and feeling that aforementioned disappointment.

However, in recent years, many museums around the world, including big-name places like the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the National Gallery, have begun to retract, or at least weaken, their no-photo-policies. This they attribute mostly because they recognize the futility of trying to prevent people from using their tiny, often disguised by phones, cameras. Even in museums that maintain a strict rule prohibiting photography, pictures still are continually snapped an even posted online.

Some people believe that the museums themselves are to blame. As more and more museum institutions use social media to connect with audiences (posting photos of museum exhibits to site like Facebook), some people hypothesize that these audiences are led to believe that such photography is acceptable for visitor as well.

Perhaps that is part of the reason, but I have trouble believing that the sharing done on a museum’s Facebook page is the sole cause of visitor’s disrespect of no-photo rules. Honestly, I highly doubt most visitor to any museum would ever take the time to visit a museum’s social media sites.

The truth of the matter is that taking pictures in art museums is a bad practice on many counts. First of all there is the issue of copyrights. A lot of the times, museums do not own the copyrights to certain works in exhibits they show, and having people photograph these works infringes on certain laws. That’s why often even museums like the Met, who usually allows photography, will sometimes forbid cameras in their temporary exhibits.

But the other problem is that when photography is allowed in museums, some Instagram-happy people forget that the point of taking pictures is to document a memory. They concentrate on taking as many pictures as they can, and this means they forget to even make a memory. The point of going to art museums is to see works of art directly before your eyes. If you want, you can see a photograph of any famous work of art on the internet. But seeing a painting, really taking time to look at it, is an amazing experience. Seeing the textures of layers of paint, seeing the cracking canvas, looking at what a legendary artist actually created is a moving experience. If you don’t do this and just snap away with your camera, you miss out on what makes museums worthwhile. And this is why I believe perhaps museums should rethink their newly developed leniency. It might be difficult to prevent photography 100%, but by making it taboo, museums can take a stand and encourage people to appreciate where they are.

Via ArtNews

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