Monday, October 28, 2013

Don't shoot!!

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.

So here I am next to my quilt, "Big Ice."   (Read my blog posts about this quilt 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?


  1. Absolutely in agreement with everything you say. The pushers and flashers irritate me no end, but I think that so much can be learned from a glimpse of a work on someone's blog, and from their comments. It is far from a theft of copyright - I think that on the whole it enhances understanding.

  2. I love the fact that you travel with a camera and USE it. Through the lens of your camera I have been exposed to far more art then I would have been left to my own adventures. Thanks.

  3. I also totally agree with your opinions on photography. Once a piece is displayed in public or even on the internet you completely lose control of where its images appear, and as long as they are credited and not mis-attributed or stolen, that is as it should be.

  4. Agreed - the human attention span can only hold so much for so long. Photos make the experience happen multiple times, especially if one spends hours in a museum. No one can possibly remember it all.

    I do have to laugh at the drive-by documenters. There is a joy in experiencing art in the moment that they will never have, as they never get out from behind the lens. What a funny rectangular world they inhabit.

  5. KATHY! Well-deserved congratulations on your "Cinderella quilt" Best of Show prize! It's gorgeous (as usual) and it's wonderful to see excellence rewarded.

  6. Love your opinion, spot on for me, too, of course. I also love to write about the quilts I see at shows, and duly credit the makers. I get that people don't want their quilts copied, but we've become a little paranoid about having them photographed. I think the point will come when we can no longer control that. Maybe we're already there! And I enjoy so much going back over my photographs from previous shows, and it brings back all the memories and feelings so clearly. So important to me, and I suspect, to you as well.