In Favor of (Digital) Sanctuary

Swipe. Tap. Share. Swipe. Tap. Share. Tap tap. Swipe swipe. Share share share.

The inaudible motions of our digital age follow us everywhere. On the sidewalk, at the mall, in your car, on the subway, in galleries, at the park. Name a place and I can tell you what’s happening there right now. Swipe. Tap. Share. Swipe. Tap. Share.

Photo-sharing apps like Instagram and Snapchat have turned visual consumption and image sharing into a daily ritual. And now the ante’s been upped. Because what’s better than a standard filtered photo? One with eye-catching elements in a visually captivating space — an image that needs no filter to impress. And an increasingly popular avenue for discovering these IRL environments is in the visual realms of art and design.

These worlds are rife with ‘grammable scenes that serve to visually please while simultaneously denoting a certain cultural awareness. On the quest for that selfie moment or aesthetic backdrop, people now explore museums, parks, and galleries with phones glued to their hands. They’re driven by the goal of capturing a quick layer of intrigue by posing with murals, installations, or sculptures. Tell me they aren’t, and I’ll show you the line of people waiting to pose with Robert Therrien’s Under the Table at The Broad Museum or the crowds of people taking photos at David Zwirner’s Dan Flavin show.

“Culture consumer” has even become a coveted social personality, one that drives culture vultures to exhibition hotspots solely to snap that perfect shot. There are positives and negatives to this digital age reality. While Instagram and other photo-sharing platforms have provided new entry points for many to enjoy and appreciate art, the art itself, when shared, is reduced to a digital gene, an atom in the sharer’s online persona.

The consumption of art for social media prowess is a digital age catch-22. Free exposure is at an all-time high for artists, galleries, and institutions, but we must ask ourselves how we advocate for the full understanding and consumption of art instead of its simple, shallow distribution. Whose duty is it to explain and disseminate the meaning behind the actual artwork? And the importance of these works to history or culture?

These are the questions that have led me to call for a novel (and what I believe is very needed) idea: a cell-phone-free museum day. A cell-phone-free art day. A day when people can visit their favorite museums and galleries and be free from the pressure of social sharing. A day to truly experience masterpieces both old and new with friends, colleagues, and families — live, in person, and face-to-face.

Let museums, galleries, foundations be at the forefront of digital and at the forefront of sanctuary. Let’s enhance their power to provide an environment where people can connect and communicate as well as educate and engage not only with each other but also with history and with art. Let’s all truly experience these places and objects instead of watching them through our screen.

Deep down, we crave these sanctuary places as much as we crave that digital connection. Let’s now show how great these “digital disconnects” can be while still promoting the power of art itself. Everyone knows they could use a break from the virtual world — let’s now make that a reality.