The act of Compulsive Looking

We live in a world where people daily take numerous pictures and selfies just about anywhere and of anything. It is an act that photography critic Jörg M. Colberg describes as “compulsive looking.” The act of photographing, the gesture, has become part of our interaction with the world. We view the world not directly through our eyes anymore, but through a lens. The phenomenon has created a unique set of challenges for art museums. While some museums, galleries and heritage sites have unrestricted photography policies for non-commercial use, many others continue to restrict visitors from taking photos of objects and artworks, often citing conservation and copyright arguments. But aren’t restricted photography policies outdated in this age of social media and mobile-phone cameras? Or do museums have a responsibility to protect intellectual property agreements by prohibiting all photography? Because of the overwhelming demand of the public to take pictures of artworks most museums allow it. People want to capsulate their visit and have a reminder of their favorite piece of art they saw. The positive side to this development for museums is an enormous amount of free publicity, for the pictures will spread across every social network available.

Some museums, like The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, had to restrict visitors from taking photos again after having received much criticism. It was nearly impossible to have an uninterupted moment with the iconic Sunflowers. The painting was completely taken over by people who wanted to take selfies. People couldn’t enjoy or experience the painting anymore. Tacking  the Mona Lisa in the Louvre in Paris as an example, people struggle to get to the front of the line, not to look at the painting, but to take a picture. Is this the way we want to enjoy a visit to our favorite museum? Should we go back to restrictions and learn to view a painting again with our eyes and not through a lens? Or do you think this is a sign of the times and selfies and camera’s in museums are here to stay?

A ban on pencils… the V&A now forbids sketching in its temporary exhibitions. Photograph: Oliver Wainwright/Guardian

We live in a world where an image, a selfie, a proof of “i was there” is more important than aknowledge all the art we are surrounded by (in museums, our cities, streets…). The problem is that we see but we don’t watch. We go to a museum and ptotograph it top to bottom but we don’t know what we have photographed.


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BA (Hons) Final Year Ceramics student at Cardiff Metropolitan University. Love experimenting with material and techniques and work on a range of medium.

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