Don't Shoot - tuesday 2005-11-15 2239 last modified 2005-11-17 0221
Categories: Daily Grind, Photography
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Why I Love Art Museums

Museums open up a level of culture and art unavailable to the general public, displaying for the world the creative effort of many talented people throughout history who set their visions down in media for the ages to appreciate. Without museums, much of the heritage of the world would be forever removed and veiled from the public eye, secreted in the vaults and private galleries of the owners, woefully consigned to misguided hoarding, relegated to mere symbols of status. Museums have safeguarded art throughout centuries, keeping much intact in the face of brutal war, investing in the preservation of timeless, social treasure.

Why I Despise Certain Museums

Re-read the prior paragraph. It reeks of elitism and snobbery.

It is true, the world would be poorer without any access at all to humanity's history of art. But access comes at a price. Not just a monetary one, but the price of the curator's arbitrary rules and regulations. As if they and only they know how art can and should be enjoyed.

Museums are a hoard of valueless items that, somehow, have availed themselves of price tags throughout the years. They most certainly have worth, but their worth cannot be described in dollars because that worth cannot trade hands. Art for the public is irrevocably for the public and cannot be taken away, even if the original is lost to theft or selfishness. But somehow the museums considered here are not public services. They do not exist to give to the public. They exist to protect the art from the public.

I went to the Isabella Gardner Museum based on its reputation amongst my peers. I went with my camera equipment. I paid my entrance fee. I was told I could not take photographs in the museum.

I respect the right to forbid photography on private grounds. Photographers have rights, but I fully understand that private property is not amongst them. After travelling out to the museum, I elected to go along with their ridiculous ban, but I was further told that I could not take my camera bag into the museum because it was too big. Too big for what? I left immediately after receiving a refund.

Having determined to photograph art, I went to the Museum of Fine Arts next door. Their photography policies are far more open, but I don't really enjoy the MFA. The distinction between 'fine' art and 'popular' art is perverse and reeks even worse of the elitism I decried earlier. I am bored by what the MFA curators consider fine art. They would do better to call themselves an anthropological museum and stop representing themselves as any brand of 'fine.'

I hoped to do a study on contrast - museums know a lot about lighting - but was frequently confronted by 'no photography' signs. Guards hawkishly stood watch over their otherwise defenseless broods that required protection from evil photographers.

While making my way about the museum, I made the mistake of crossing by another entrance, where yet another guard decided I had to check my bag. I left immediately.

I despise museums for the way they treat their visitors, ready to assume the worst of them. I come to enjoy my own way, and I am turned away, shunned, and treated as little more than a criminal. Not for my poor behavior or abusive treatment of their precious relics, but because I carry a camera in a bag that's too big.

I leave you to your beloved art. Guard it. Preserve it. Catalog it. Make sure we don't enjoy it. Because that certainly isn't the point, is it?

I'd like to start a list of museums that are friendly to photographers. Here are two that don't belong.


Here's someone with similar thoughts

fugu on November 17, 2005 03:18 PM

The MFA's bag po...

The MFA's bag policy generally requires that all backpacks and other parcels larger than an average hand-bag must be checked, with some caveats for items that would or would not be reasonably needed in a gallery space. From the description you gave of your camera bag, you should not have been approached by a guard unless they felt there was an immediate threat to the artwork.

Sounds like poor training to me.

Ryan Lee on November 18, 2005 05:29 PM

Ditto on Lizzy Gardner

My grandmother and her best friend visited me here in Boston for two weeks this summer. Having heard everyone rave about the Gardner Museum, and being that it's just across the Fens from my home, I suggested that they check it out.

My grandmother made the mistake of wanting to write down the name of one of the paintings for me. A guard promptly told her that it was not permissible to use her own writing implement in the museum. She would have to return to the front desk to acquire an officially sanctioned museum pencil.

Bryan Bilyeu on November 30, 2005 06:52 PM

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