JWSmith Photography | Our shortened attention span

Our shortened attention span

July 01, 2018  •  1 Comment

So, below is a self portrait of Vincent Van Gogh that should be familiar to anyone not living underground for the last century.  I was fortunate enough to stand, ahem, face-to-face with it in the Musee d'Orsay just last week.  In a bustling crowd I was able to hold a spot straight on, a meter from this masterpiece.  Yet, it only took an instant for an iPad toting, middle-aged, Chinese woman to snuggle up on my right, stab her iPad outward and in front of my face, snap a picture of Vincent and then, just as swiftly, flitter off, no doubt to do the same with Starry Night or a nearby Renoir.  I could see the image on her screen and it was not as good as the one below (copied from Wikipedia). Of course her hastily composed snapshot had the frame and the context of the museum but geez, a quick pic of a modern masterpiece, taking zero time to actually look at the ORIGINAL work?  I know I stood there for 5 minutes just marveling at this work, and I'm no art aficianado or student of the impressionists. In fact, while there I wished for an art student to explain it to me. 

Why do we do this then?  Why ignore what is right in front of us, an original work from a master only to snap a photo and run off to repeat the process again and again?  Is it not real until we capture it, the value then occurring when we're home and can view the ersatz version on our phones or iPads?  Nothing those kids (and adults) caught on their phones will be any better than what I pulled from Wiki, most will be worse.  Why bother to visit the museum at all?  

It's the same at iconic landscapes, Tunnel View, Mesa Arch, Grand Canyon's south rim all get the same treatment.  I started this blog thinking I'd blame Steve Jobs but that's like blaming Samuel Colt for the country's gun violence. We have a tool and some will use it willy-nilly while others will create art or new methods of communicating. 

For me, I'm still moved that I stood in front of this work along with other masterpieces like Renoir's Bal du Moulin de la Galette and Poppies by Monet; works that I'd only seen in books and movies.  It's unfortunate that many will only remember it from what's on their phone. 



Todd Henson(non-registered)
This is so true. I don’t get to museums nearly as often as I’d like, but having visited many of the Smithsonian museums and various monuments in DC I’ve seen the same thing. I suspect many are simply running through a checklist to prove to their friends they were there, hence all the selfies. There is little interest in the actual work but instead in bragging rights and number of likes on their social network of choice. It’s sad, but I suspect it’s little different from before we had inexpensive cameras and now cell phones. There will always be those who are not interested in the actual work, just that they saw it.

Being the optimist I’m hopeful at least some of these folks interest in the quick snaps and selfies will eventually develop into an interest in the artwork and the experience of viewing the artwork in person. As you said, it’s the same at iconic landscapes. I have experienced some form it of, myself, keeping my eyes glued behind the camera and sometimes forgetting to take a step back and take it all in with my eyes, building my own memories instead of relying on the camera to do it for me.

Having been to museums and seen works by the masters, it really is a world of difference than looking at an online image or one from a book. You can see the textures, how the light plays off the three dimensional aspects of the paper, canvas, and layers of paint. You can view from different angles. Maybe I haven’t yet learned to fully appreciate the specific piece of art, but I do appreciate being able to see it in person. Will I still photograph it? Of course (if the museum allows it). But if I don’t take the time to experience it myself before walking away then I’ve missed the whole point of visiting the museum.

By the way, I hope you really enjoyed your trip! I look forward to seeing any other photos you post from it. Very nice view of Chateau de Chambord in your previous post.
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