Focus on the art, not your camera, at Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens

In accordance with the artist’s wishes, the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens will not be allowing photography inside its newest exhibition, Rebecca Louise Law’s room-filling floral installation, The Journey. That means no selfies. No Instagram.

Before grabbing your torch and pitchfork and heading to the Cummer’s front steps, understand there are multiple reasons for this decision.

One, from a practical standpoint, Law and the museum want to avoid distracted guests from finding themselves tangled up in the delicate, hanging blooms. It’s happened before. Secondly, the artist wants visitors to focus on the artwork, not their phones. To be present in the moment, in the gallery, amongst the botanicals she’s spent her entire career collecting. As much as that phone records what you’re experiencing, it also distracts from what your experiencing, reducing the value of the very experience you’re attempting to memorialize on it.

I’ve noticed this myself. In my thirst to photograph an artwork for a story or social media post, I catch myself focused on “the shot,” not “the art.” Oftentimes I’ve left a museum or gallery with dozens of camera phone images of artworks and no memory of them. No feeling for them. No experience with them. I assure you I regret the lack of connection to the artwork more than I revel in the photos.

I am now routinely reminding myself to put my phone away in order to center myself to the artwork I’m viewing directly. I shake my head at myself, obsessed with photographing a painting I can find reproduced perfectly on-line, missing out on the unique, sometimes once-in-a-lifetime, in-person experience of sharing space with it, noticing its find details, sacrificing those few minutes of being in the same room with genius for a week’s worth of Insta posts to prove I was there. I know I was there. I will remember the time much more vividly when I’m focused solely on the artwork and in the moment.

Personal time in front of art is rare, even more so those occasions when visiting temporary exhibitions or museums outside of your hometown. Spend that time with the art. Not your phone. I’m betting you’ll be glad you did.

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