I recently took a short trip to Paris over the Easter week. This isn’t my first trip there, but it has been 8 years since I was in Paris last. The last time I was there the iPhone was still fairly new. Smartphones hadn’t taken over the universe. Instagram was still a newer social media platform and people were less obsessed with taking selfies.
Today it’s a different story. I’m going to use my visit to Musée d’Orsay as the backdrop for the biggest change I saw. Actually, it’s the same change that is happening everywhere, not just in Paris.
The change I’m talking about is the self-obsession and documentation that everyone does. And I do mean everyone. From the youngest kid with a smartphone to the oldest adult. 8 years ago at Musée d’Orsay people actually looked at the art. You could stand in front of a painting and look at it while the people next to you did the same thing.
Today however you look at the art through your smartphone, take a photo of it to prove you were there, upload it to social media, then turn around and snap a selfie in front of the same piece and move on. The engagement is no longer about the work of art. It’s about documenting your presence with the art and sharing it on a social platform. It’s not even about “Hey look at this beautiful painting I saw”. It’s about the desire to prove you were there and increase your popularity.
I say this because no one spent any time really looking at the pieces in the museum. They saw a Monet, walked up to it, snapped a couple of pics, then moved on to the next victim down the way. As I stood in the museum watching the activity, I began timing the length of interaction individuals had with the art. It was on average less than 10 seconds each. Not long enough to appreciate it, but long enough to capture it and then share it on social media.
This wasn’t isolated to Musée d’Orsay either. I saw the same thing at the Roden museum, Giverny, Musée de l’Orangerie, the burned remains of Notre Dame, and countless other spots in Paris. This was especially true at Atelier des Lumières where you are in an immersive experience with projection mapped animation and art surrounding you. The whole point of Atelier des Lumières is to be immersed in the art and experience it in 360 degrees. It’s a little hard to do when you are busy capturing a video of the experience rather than actually experiencing it.
The only location that seemed somewhat free of it was a section of the Roden museum that featured a series of plaster maquette’s in one of the upper rooms of the house.
I don’t want to sound like a curmudgeon, but I really wish all of these spaces would ban smartphones and selfie sticks. I know it’s a losing battle, and could probably never be enforced, but damn they totally ruin the experience for those of us that really want to enjoy the masterworks contained within.
Now, where is that photo I took on my phone of the…