one-off at the wrist

public engagement

‘Uproar’ [if such a thing is possible any more about anything?] in the last few weeks concerning the future of public art viewing. ‘Selfie central’ reads the newspaper headline. The National Gallery has ‘relaxed’ its rules concerning the taking of photographs, stating it is too difficult to police given that smartphone users may just be doing an online search about the artwork.


Seems like capitulation to me. When did/should the difficulty of doing something ever prevent you trying to do it? Speaks more about the lack of viewing education of the public/a need to get punters through the door, than anything actual.

I had assumed the reasons photograph taking was previously disallowed in most galleries were 1) concerns about millions of camera flashes affecting the lightfastness of painting pigment, 2) loss of revenue [selling of postcards etc] 3) disturbing other patrons viewing experience. The last of which seems to me to be the most important.

Easy to forget that most if not all public galleries [and indeed public libraries] were set up for ‘the education of the masses’ [particularly the early 20th century, then newly leisured working classes, who were perceived/feared to be up to no good ie getting intoxicated]. I would assume that social decorum of that time ensured the hushed reverential behaviour of visitors [as expected in that other social enclave of the time – church].


But is it reasonable, with happy snappers everywhere, to expect this kind of engagement with artworks in a contemporary setting? [I await the argument the first time joe public saunters into a national gallery with professional reproduction quality photographic equipment].

Unfortunately we have to accept that the democratisation of culture means that ‘art’ has become little more than a tick-list tourist destination for most, and there’s is no going back.


But the answer seems easy. Different gallery opening hours/days to suit different viewing expectations. Either that or just as with the Lascaux cave paintings in France, you have maufactured Disney-esque viewing areas with reproductions, where visitors can photograph and maul [yes I’ve seen it done] exhibits all they desire; and the actual artworks elsewhere for ‘serious’ contemplation.


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