I’ve dreaded this moment, but time waits for no man. Today I finally write a millennial think-piece on selfies.
I firmly believe that just as there is no real right or wrong way to make art, there is no right or wrong way to experience it.
I love going through museums with my camera or phone in hand. I don’t see why you can’t take a picture of something and, before or after, be present with the art and absorb it in the moment. Not to quote Zombo Com for an English assignment but I mean really, the only limit is yourself.
Do some people take pictures just to be seen with the art rather than see the art? Sure. Its nothing new – please Google the bourgeoisie – and I don’t think in this case its inherently bad. If you didn’t want to get the “whole experience” or view the art as the artist intended, isn’t that your prerogative? This is America, folks, the land of the free. Your rights extend as far as your neighbors’ end.
I do agree that bumping into people who are too busy taking pictures to pay any attention to their surroundings is pretty annoying, but I think that’s more of a museum etiquette thing rather than some sort of structural, millennial, “these darn kids” kind of thing. A little patience and respect on both sides of this photography divide is probably all that’s really needed to solve that.
Photography is art, by anyone’s but the snootiest’s metrics. I think taking photos with the art, of the art, remixing the art, or other forms of interaction with it are just as valid experiences as any other. For example, Beyonce’s selfie by a Picasso is now a cultural icon. She generated new art that reacts to and remixes another’s, a long-standing tradition in art in all mediums. Even if its really not that deep, any photo of another’s art captures one perspective of the piece for posterity. That’s not too bad a fate, for a piece of art.
The selfie in particular is a really fun and personal way to express yourself, and in my opinion, especially around art. Who doesn’t like taking pictures of yourself with nice things? It might be a souvenir, it might be some symbolic expression. Whatever your reasoning, if you’re into this kind of thing, its also nothing new. The Portrait Gallery, for example, is loaded with portraits (and some old-school selfies) that people sat for hours for so they could have their likeness painted with some roses or jewelry or other art.
I appreciate that this kind of thing is more accessible now with the advent of the digital age. Some barriers to celebration or expression of yourself or of art wither away as phones become cheaper and cheaper. You don’t have to be King Henry VIII to think that you look nice and a piece of art looks nice, and take a picture. There are already multi-billion dollar corporations out there whose purpose is to make you feel bad about yourself so you buy product. Who has time for that? You’re art too; you can feel confident if you want to. Someone once phrased this really well to me: “I’d a thousand times rather be vain than hate myself again.”
That’s all to say, if its allowed, I think that taking pictures of art (including selfies) is a fine way to experience it. It would be pretty reductionist and against the spirit and tradition of art to claim that there’s only one way to experience art, and that all the other ways are invalid. I truly believe even the oft-berated selfie is a creation of value.
It is a shame that it may bother other museum-goers, but I feel like this is like when Parisians are bothered when someone shows up in Paris and dares to wear color. It’s kind of a non-issue. Colorful clothes and selfies with art don’t hurt anyone. You’re not alone in this city and you’re not alone in this museum. You can keep doing you. I think we can all manage a little respect for one another.
But hey, if you’ve never tried it, why don’t you take a picture? It’ll last longer.