I use Tumblr as, among other things, sort of a collection of things that inspire me. Stunning photography and artwork are certain to catch my eye and be saved to my favorites there. I remember one photograph in particular that was quite inspirational as I was working on character development for my novel. At least once or twice weekly, a really unique piece of art will catch my eye there and have a similar effect.
There’s an interesting sort of detachment that happens, though, when you’re viewing artwork on a computer monitor…sort of an extra degree of separation than one would experience in the gallery or museum. Often, at least in larger museums, sitting areas will be strategically positioned for pausing to really experience a work of art, to let it soak in and to contemplate the piece. That really doesn’t occur when seeing artwork in a blog feed. Something is lost in translation, if not in the visual presentation of the work, then in the experience.
A few years ago, one of my dear friends gave a lecture on how the viewer engages art. I remember specifically his mentioning that the average viewer pauses for about eight seconds in front of a piece of art in a gallery or museum before moving on. I don’t think that this is inaccurate, because I actually see very few people using those sitting areas that I mentioned when I visit a museum or gallery. I jokingly said something to my friend after his talk to the effect of, “So, what I hear you saying is to look for at least nine seconds before I move on?” Whenever I pause for a few seconds to view artwork that shows up in my Tumblr feed, and start to scroll again, I remember my friend’s words, and try to take a breath to appreciate what I’m seeing instead of moving on to something else.
There’s something about speeding past a work of art…and I mean “art” in the general sense, not to speak of any medium in particular…that cheapens the experience, devalues the work, and even steals from the artist. The same is true in reading a book too quickly, without pausing to consider the chapter that you’ve just finished, or pausing to really experience the song that you’ve just heard. Moreover, we’re robbing ourselves, as well, of the experience…perhaps inspirational, or moving, or even life-altering…that we might have had by simply engaging the work of art that we have the privilege of viewing.
And it is a privilege, because many people in various parts of the world….including our own proverbial back yards…will never have such an opportunity, or have it very rarely.
As passionate as I am about the possibilities brought to us by our technological innovations, I am ever aware that we stand to lose much if we let ourselves be carried away. Instant access to information can, I think, lead to a loss of appreciation for that information. What once was memorized is now simply accessed at any time, and there is much that is less tender, less loving, about accessing something instead of memorizing and truly getting to know that thing.
So it is with speeding past art in our streams of data. When we do…and we all do…I don’t think that we realize what we have.
Which is a shame, because what we have…our wealth of creativity and common ground…is a truly beautiful thing. We just need to stop and appreciate it.