Travel There – Looking for the Insta Moment
On a random Wednesday afternoon in Lower Manhattan, when we’d had Fraunces Tavern Museum and Trinity Church virtually to ourselves, people were lined up to have their picture taken with the Bull. Both of the empty attractions were ever so much more interesting and meaningful than the Bull, but the Bull was getting all the attention.
What you can’t see in the picture above is that there are actually two lines. One for the front of the bull and one for the back, where Gen Xer’s, Z’s and Millennials waited in a much longer line to have their photo made with the Bull’s genitals.
This made me sad. With so much to see, it seemed silly to me to wait around to get my picture made with a bull, even if it was THE bull. But as sad as it was for people to spend time waiting to get the picture with the front of the bull, when there was so much else of great interest around them, I thought the genitalia crowd was really missing the point. But that’s me.
Experiential Public Spaces
A few years ago I sat in a lecture at the University of Dallas, my alma mater. An influential lecturer was touting the importance of the new trend towards experiential art and monuments. I thought I knew what she was talking about, because I’ve always been about experiencing art. I will wait in long lines to see a Vincent Van Gogh painting up close, but that’s not it.
She was talking about those little boxes they put on the walls these days so kids can smell or touch something in relation to an exhibit. It’s a table set up so you can color or play a game next to a sculpture. It’s a sheet of paper with pictures on it that you are supposed to match to things you see around a museum. These are all well and good, but to me they are more often a distraction from what’s there, not a help to understand it.
I remember the first time I went to a museum with all these helpful boxes and games. It was the Bullock Texas State History Museum. The place was overrun with squealing kids hanging off various displays and they were having fun. They may remember the experience until today, but I ask you, did they actually learn anything about Texas history they could repeat to you now? Believe me! I’m not against fun. I just think in the big scheme of things it is overrated.
But back to that lecture! One of the things the lecturer presented was a slide taken at an experiential exhibit of Van Gogh’s art, somewhere over in Europe. At the time I thought it looked kind of like an Impressionistic disco. Then the exhibit came to Dallas as Immersive Van Gogh and I couldn’t wait to go, because I thought I must have misunderstood what I was seeing at the lecture.
Only I hadn’t. They played music and projected Van Gogh’s art onto the walls, ceiling and floor. You had the option of standing, utilizing a seating area in one of the rooms or sitting on the floor. It was an Impressionistic disco. You learned nothing about Van Gogh and even the music wasn’t in context.
I confess, I have good friends who loved it, who said they could spend all day there or plan on going back over and over. If you like it, that’s great, but don’t stop there. Find the art on the walls of museums and look at in person. Learn about the artist, his friends, the reasons people hated his work then but love it now, read his letters to his brother, listen to the music popular at the time, the fashions, the homes – know what you are looking at.
To me, whether you are looking at something on a website or being immersed in a audio/visual “experience”, you are being cheated. If these virtual experiences were catalysts for deeper exploration, that would be a good thing, but they aren’t. People are using them as replacements. Why spend the money to go to Paris and explore the Louvre? The Mona Lisa is on the internet. And the people who do go to Paris spend more time taking selfies at the Eiffel Tower than they do in the Louvre!!
This has been a concern of mine for a long time. Almost thirty years ago Bill and I went to Six Flags. Instead of one of the Broadway-quality shows I had seen in past, they showed me a video in the Southern Palace theater. It was sad to me. I thought of the DFW area talent that was going to waste and regretted I had spent my time watching a video. I just looked at their current entertainment schedule and it’s Looney Tunes. REALLY?
As we stare into our phones and post pictures with the newest filter we are loosing touch with the value of reality. When we are looking reality in the face (or the genitalia) we’re more interested in the entertainment factor than we are exploration. As soon as we post our selfie, we move on to the next experience. We are losing the ability to store up information we can reflect on over time and the opportunity to apply what we observe to our lives to make them better. We just get entertained and then we get bored.
OK, now I will step away from my hobby horse, climb off my soap box, quit my rant – whichever phrase you prefer. Come back next week and I will tell you about a bar around the corner where we went next and had fun. I will not mention experiential public spaces.