Photos and selfies can be perfect for museums

Two of the biggest American music festivals have opted to prohibit selfie sticks this year to stop those who use them to block the view of other people. They are joining the London’s National Gallery and other museums like the New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Chateau de Versailles, and numerous other venues around the globe.

In museums, the bans are imposed on logical reasons to protect the security of collections. It’s a good thing. Sticks can be dangerous for swiping around near fragile artworks. So why do selfie sticks have to be different?

However, the selfie stick debate has revealed something more. The controversies surrounding the prohibition suggest that the act of taking selfies has led to the latest manifestation of the museum’s long-standing “us and them” divide among those who make use of the museum’s collections “properly” (for education or self-improvement in culture) in contrast to people who utilize the supplies “incorrectly” (for mere distraction or entertainment).

Smartphones and social media platforms such as Twitter and Instagram and the easing of photography restrictions in several museums over the past few years have led to an ever-growing association between going to museum exhibits and snapping selfies. The trend has grown into a well-established cultural event through Museum Selfie Day, which is currently in its 2nd year. The event was described in the words of Mar Dixon as an event that was created “to highlight the fun and ‘unstuffiness’ of museums.” It actively encourages visitors to get involved with the museum by tweeting selfies. The hashtag has generated thousands of images ( some touristy, others that are actually fascinating), and the hashtag #MuseumSelfie is an occurrence by itself all through the year. Recently, it was repurposed by none other than Cookie Monster, taking an excursion through some New York museums.

Photos that can be tweeted and Instagrammable are helping people get into museums and discuss collections. For some, however, the price is prohibitive.

A number of critics who have praised the ban on selfie sticks have seized the opportunity to express their concerns about selfies and pictures in museums. Brian Sewell protested in The Times that they interfere with the experience of museums: “Anyone who actually wants to go and see a painting can’t because people are too busy taking photos.” Similar to Jonathan Jones, writing in the Guardian, the photography in museums is to satisfy “the pleasure of the crowd.” While praising the change in culture going to galleries, he goes on to say that selfies, cameras, and mobile phones are “a spiritual menace,” discrediting the act of “calm contemplation” for which museums are meant to serve.

This is the “us and them”: traditionalist art critics who believe that the museum is a place to higher ideals and selfie-snappers of all kinds who see museums as places of relaxation. What’s absurd is the notion that the two will never be able to meet. It’s not like education doesn’t have its fun or even contemplation can’t be entertaining.

Museums, balancing the need for economic success to attract a broad audience while also conserving and promoting the cultural heritage of our society, is not an entirely new issue. However, with personal photography and digital technology, there is a possibility for new approaches.

An island is a place for art. The island lets you get truly involved in the art. Facebook

Arts in Island, which was recently inaugurated in the Philippines, offers a unique alternative: a museum entirely made for selfies. Instead of artwork, the walls are adorned with 3D replicas that encourage interaction and provide fun photo opportunities. It is possible to climb inside Van Gogh’s Starry Night or catch the flying shoe from Fragonard’s The Swing – then upload your photos on The museum’s page on Facebook. The page has more “likes” than London’s National Portrait Gallery (whatever it could be a measure of its success). It is drawing the attention of. Art in Island is less an art gallery than a themed museum amusement center. However, its popularity has caused critics like Jones to reconsider their opinions.

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