Monday, October 28, 2013
Last week I had the pleasure of visiting the National Quilt Museum in Paducah KY to take in the SAQA Seasonal Palette exhibit, on display through December 3. Although I'd seen the catalog, of course, I hadn't had a chance to see the exhibit in its previous venues and was impressed by the quilts in person and the way they were hung.
here and here.)
We needed special permission to take this picture, because photography has always been forbidden at the quilt museum. And that raises an interesting subject: whether it's Good or Bad for museums to allow photos.
Last month the New York Times sparked a flurry of comments with an opinion piece by Deborah Solomon, an art critic, who wrote, "When we photograph, e-mail, tweet and Instagram paintings, we capitalize on technological innovation to expand familiarity with an ancient form. So, too, we increase the visual literacy of this country. Much can be gained. Nothing can be lost. A photography of a painting can no more destroy a masterpiece than it can create one."
Many museums have lightened up their photo policies in recent years, as more and more people carry phone/cameras and expect to be able to document everything they see, just as they do in other walks of life.
You don't need to read the newspaper to list the pros and cons, and perhaps the cons make a longer list. Haven't we all been annoyed at people who think their camera is a license to shove to the front of the crowd and monopolize the good real estate (especially at quilt shows)? Haven't we noticed that taking the photo often substitutes for looking at the painting or the landscape? (Haven't we noticed this sometimes in ourselves?) Haven't we all been grossed out by flashbulbs spoiling the peace?
Sure we have. But would it be better to try to improve the manners of rude tourists than to keep all of us from enhancing our museum experience? Surely a no-flash rule is a good idea.
Then there's copyright, which at least in the United States has a fair use exception that covers education, comment and criticism. But if people are allowed to photograph my quilt in the museum, won't the next step be a flood of unathorized Chinese knockoffs in Walmart? Well, I don't stay awake nights worrying about that. For one thing, if the Chinese want to copy my quilt they can get a much better image off the SAQA website.
In general I believe that people with a high fear of having their work "stolen" should not enter it in shows or display it in galleries.
I love taking photos in museums. I find it helps me look at the art more carefully, and when I review the photos at home I often find details I missed the first time around. Most important to me, I love to write about the art I see. The process of thinking about the art and articulating my emotional and critical response is the final step in understanding and appreciating what I see. Without photos I wouldn't get much out of that step, nor would you readers read very far, I suspect.
What do you think?