Friday, 14 July 2017

Dumbdown 'Engaging with the Past', First 'Metal Detecting', now Selfies

Dumbdown 'engaging with the past', first 'metal detecting' (Collection-Driven Exploitation of the archaeological Record) to 'get people visiting museums', now selfies
"Museum selfies have become a thing, and are even encouraged by some museums to draw younger visitors. There are entire blogs dedicated to museum selfies. Museum Hack, which gives quirky, unofficial tours of major museums around the country says on its website, “Museum selfies are an awesome way to engage audiences with your museum and collections"..." (Sopan Deb, 'Oops! A Gallery Selfie Gone Wrong Causes $200,000 in Damage', The New York Times).
'Awesome'. While you are there, why not scribble your name on the wall to say 'I engaged with the collections here'?


Paul D., Paderborn, Germany said...

Dear Mr. Barford,

I think the main lesson to be learned from that incident is that art should be displayed on plinths that are made of something a bit more solid than cardboard. It seems like that accident was just waiting to happen.

Also I am not sure why it should have caused 200.000 bucks in damage.
Looks more like 20 dollars to me. Although maybe I just don't understand "modern art" and why it is now "spoiled".

But jokes aside: I think that the younger generation must find their own way to engage with art. We should not be judging them too much. And I certainly don't see, why taking a selfie (in a non-destructive way) is the equivalent of smearing on the walls.

Cheers from Germany,

Paul Barford said...

'Taking a selfie' is - as the name suggests - focussed on the self, the 'place' is just a background. To engage with the objects in a museum involves actually contemplating them, and reading the labels, not using them as anonymous props.

Graffiti is the same as a selfie, an expression of "I was here". Don't you see that?

John said...

Of course Paul from Germany is right. This is a case of Mr Barford putting his own negative spin on an event. We should be celebrating the fact that the younger generation are going to our museums. The fact that they take a picture of themselves with the exhibit is what they do. Don't be a perpetual wet blanket, Paul.

Paul Barford said...

"We should be celebrating the fact that the younger generation are going to our museums". Interesting comment. Would we have heard that a generation ago? That perhaps tells us more about our times than it does about the use of museums.

A museum is a public space with a specific function, if we change that function, then what is a museum actually for? Do we give metal detectorists treasure ransoms merely to get sparkly things to act as somebody's "selfie background"? For dumbdown "wont-cha-loot-at-that!" photo ops, it might as well be a pyramid of beer cans and we can all save some money.

By the way, just to be clear, the attentive reader would note that I am not talking as these two seem to think about an 'event', but about the more general remark I found appended to a media account of one.

Paul D., Paderborn, Germany said...

Dear Mr Barford,

in my view the specific function of an art museum is to make art available to the public. What the members of the public then choose to do with it is up to them, as long as they don't leave any permanent trace of their acticity behind and as long as they do not disturb others (for more than 30 seconds; 40 seconds are acceptable if they are under 12 months of age).

So instead of having hard and fast concepts about how one should or should not approach art we should leave it up to each new generation. After all, it is just as much their art as ours.

Also ... I'll just say it: Some of those selfie-pictures on the blog are actually pretty funny. They are a bit of art in their own right.


Paul Barford said...

I am an archaeologist, this blog is concerned with the archaeology and as the posts here show I am against treating archaeological material merely as 'ancient art'. You seem to be assuming that there are only 'art' museums. There is a huge amount more to archaeological objects than 'looking nice', and it is that message I expect a proper museum to be making accessible. It seems to me that a museum that unambitiously sets out to be good selfie fodder really is not doing what I think a lot of us (still) expect museums to do, which is to provide something a bit more cerebral. Otherwise there does not seem to be much point. We have Disneyland and other such places for family fun and entertaining - let's not confuse the two.

Paul Barford said...

"Some of those selfie-pictures on the blog are actually pretty funny"
There is another issue here which does not concern dumbdown, but respect. Some of the images lampooned by those "selfies" (they are not) to which Mr Paderborn refers are of Christian saints, many works of art in western museums are religious pieces, other objects include Native American (or other cultures') sacred objects, masks, kacjhina figures etc, some museum exhibits incorporate human remains (jivaro heads, mummies, skeletons). The Parthenon Marbles are not in the BM so teenage boys can ogle the bare breasts of goddesses and make titty-jokes. There is the aspect of the respect due to the artists and patrons whose works are open to public display. The images on the blog are not respectful. Surely an art museum should be engaged in encouraging respect for art - rather than total philistine disregard.

The "comedy" of the photos referred to relies on taking parts of the original image out of context. Perhaps we should take this into account when we assess the self-serving arguments of those promoting the so-called 'encyclopaedic museums' which assume the modern museum-goer wants (expects) to see (to be able to contemplate) the wider context of a work. In fact, cases like this show that reality might be very far from that.

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