Professional athletics is the ultimate spectator sport. Whether you are at the game or set up in front of the big screen, the role of the sports fan is clear: cheer on your squad and express your fandom in any safe way that doesn’t harm anyone else. But are the rules of viewership different from thing to thing? What about art? The original spectator sport. Before the NFL, we had cave paintings. And believe you me, those images were judged by every slopping-brow who lumbered past. But even in its infancy, art had some guidelines about how it should be digested. Later, other creative minds would challenge this vary notion leaving us in a place where the boundaries were no longer clear. But I’m getting ahead of myself. The words below are dedicated to the discussion of how we should approach a work of art in 2017.
Let me first start by saying that I never have trouble finding my words but this whole issue has me very vexed and confused. The fact that I reacted so strongly means this topic demands to be explored.
Not to brag but my folks dragged me to tons of museums, exhibits and other strange art things ever since I could walk. So I learned gallery-etiquette at an early age. For those unfamiliar, it goes like this: don’t touch anything. Ever. Unless there is a giant sign or person that says you can. Be aware of the viewers around you. Any one person is entitled to look as long they’d like and from as many vantages points but try not to limit anyone else’s experience with your enjoyment. Just beware of the space you are occupying. This is a basic idea and should resonant deeply with the sports community.
This is the old man part of the argument. Where I complain about “kids these days” and how they “don’t respect their elders” and all that other trite garbage. Unfortunately, the world of viewing art has in fact changed with the younger generation. It now seems just as important (if not more) to document your museum day via social media. To let everyone know what you are up to. Show that you are hip and that you check out inspiring works because you are so cool and creative. But this trend is bothersome because it seems like all the thought is in the broadcasting of the piece and not digestion of it. There is no time limit or minimum but if you spend all your time getting the perfect pic and then you move on, then you didn’t witness the art. You saved or sent a skewed reproduction of the piece. Not the same. Would you put a filter on Andy Warhol?
Because some artists understand our love of our phones, we have seen the rise of interactive pop art that just begs that you pose with it. Enter the era of the Instagram art museum. Each installation is another photo op. A quick tour of the building and you’ll have enough grounded content for the week. Score. This article was inspired after a recent trip to Los Angeles based pop up, The 14th Factory. Gram worthy works include a room full of rakes hanging from the ceiling, a garden of giant airplane wings and the all white bedroom from 2001: A Space Odyssey. Another photo-bait spot in LA is the Museum of Ice Cream. Swimming pool of sprinkles, oversized everything, all painted the brightest pinks and yellows and whatnot. AKA Internet gold.
But whatever you do, don’t be this person who ruined $200,000 worth of beautiful work from Simon Birch at the 14th Factory. In a quest for the perfect selfie, the dummy in question knocks over part of the installation which causes a horrifying domino effect.
That video legit made me cringe when I first saw it. It took me back to 6-years-old and running in a gallery only to have my mom snatch me up and explain why that was a bad idea. To this day, I keep my hands behind my back when I get close to a piece. My lady calls it “museum hands” and she teases me endlessly each time she witness them. But I’ve never knocked anything over. So maybe museum hands should be protocol with everyone.
I get why you take pictures of art. I do it too. Where it is allowed, of course. And if you don’t know or there are no signs posted then ask an employee about their photography policy. Below is an image I took of one of Simon Birch’s gorgeous crowns. This crown was in the middle row, not the row that got knocked over. But close. Overall, this was maybe my favorite thing in the whole 14th Factory. A stunning work.
So what’s the compromise? People are not going to put their phones away. But is it so bad that young people are excited about art that they want to share it? All the museums in LA that require tickets are sold out for weeks or months at a time. That’s incredible. Everyone needs more art in their life. I guess I’m just asking for everyone to be a little more aware that a gallery space is a public space. Be conscious of your fellow art fans and maybe keep your phone away as much as possible.
There is no one right way to enjoy art. So try different stuff. Bring a sketch book and sit with one work and see what you come up with. Or try that stupid headset with narrated tour. Bring different friends of family members for a new perspective in your conversation. Create new angles, it may surprise you what you find. Just remember this one thing: don’t knock anything over.