To Selfie or Not to Selfie in Art Museums?

A man takes a selfie at the State Hermitage Museum (Getty)
A man takes a selfie at the State Hermitage Museum (Getty)

Pros, Cons and Selfie Points of Etiquette (As In When to Use a Selfie Stick)

Selfies are everywhere. People take them in the car, on the street, in the bathroom mirror; at home, at work and especially on vacation.

But do these homages to self belong in the art museum? What are the pros to allowing selfies alongside art? What are the cons? And what’s up with the selfie stick?

Taking group selfies on Museum Selfie Day (Getty)
Taking group selfies on Museum Selfie Day (Getty)

Selfie Positives

The Lure

For many, the opportunity to take a picture with a celebrity or at the top of Machu Picchu is the best way to preserve a really great memory. If someone wants a selfie with a famous work of art, can you really blame them? If the lure of attending the museum is wrapped up in selfie-taking, do we really want to derail that?

Interactive

Selfies offer museum visitors the opportunity to interact with objects they see. If they share those images on social media, art institutions and museums get a much appreciated “word of mouth” boost.

With selfies, people show how and when art fits into their daily lives. If they share those images with others, then art in context simply becomes more a part of our world.

Creativity

Search #museumselfie and you’ll be overwhelmed by all the fun, quirky ways people have put themselves and objects of art and history together. From dressing up like a figure in a painting and taking a “twining” photo or posing side by side with a favorite sculpture, people get really creative around art objects in museums. Selfies may very well be the best way these moments are captured.

Posing for yourself is also a great way to brush up on your self-portrait skills. Every artist needs a model, so why not be your own? If you are an artist, try being your own model and using selfies as photo references. You’ll learn a lot.

Sign of the Times

If we don’t use technology to do things differently, what good is it? Selfies are a modern-day phenomenon and embracing them means embracing the now.

Getting too close to artworks for a quick selfie pic is part of the problem (Getty)

Selfie Negatives

Sign of the Times

All flash and no substance is how many would describe the nature of a selfie. Take a pic of yourself, but don’t spend time in the actual experience you are having. There’s a price to pay for that deficit.

Damages

When someone is more focused on getting the angle of their phone right while in selfie stance rather than on the artwork that they are cozying up to, accidents happen. Take the notorious 14th Factory Gallery incident that damaged several objects after a selfie taker got too close and toppled close to a dozen artworks.

Interference

Many opponents of selfies in art museums say selfie takers are there for only one thing, and it isn’t the art. It is looking at themselves, with art as their wallpaper. At the MOMA this summer, The Starry Night by Vincent van Gogh was a wasteland of selfie takers.

The jockeying for position, snapping pics furiously with backs turned to the painting, and then darting away was distracting to many non-selfie takers and disturbed the quiet contemplation at least one visitor sought.

Many art museums prohibit selfie sticks in exhibition halls (Getty)
Many art museums prohibit selfie sticks in exhibition halls (Getty)

Selfie Etiquette

The best bet for figuring out whether to selfie or not to selfie in an art museum is to consult the institution’s policy guide. Some museums outright forbid photos of all kinds.

Others prohibit selfie sticks and tripods in exhibition halls. Still, others swing the opposite way like the Art Is Island museum in the Philippines, which was built around the concept of the selfie: The artwork is spaced to allow you to stand alongside it for the perfect selfie.

What do you think about selfies? Should they be allowed in art museums?

Be sure to mark your calendars for January 21, which just so happens to be Museum Selfie Day. Whether you participate or not, it’ll be noteworthy to see what the next wave of selfies in art museums brings.

 

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The Artist's Life Blog
Courtney Jordan

About Courtney Jordan

  Courtney is the editor of Artist Daily. For her, art is one of life’s essentials and a career mainstay. She’s pursued academic studies of the Old Masters of Spain and Italy as well as museum curatorial experience, writing and reporting on arts and culture as a magazine staffer, and acquiring and editing architecture and cultural history books. She hopes to recommit herself to more studio time, too, working in mixed media.   

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