This … or That?


Excerpts from A Starry Night Crowded With Selfies by Francis X. Clines (NY Times, 9/23/17):

“This is the scene in front of Vincent van Gogh’s “The Starry Night” at the Museum of Modern Art earlier this month.  The city’s summer tourist season is ending, but visitors still crowd four and five deep in neck-craning hubbubs, brandishing phones to take close-ups and grinning selfies and somehow partake of “Starry Night,” the van Gogh masterpiece at the Museum of Modern Art. The crowds were ceaseless all summer, as they are much of the year — bobbing, weaving, snapping away, denying quiet contemplation. They puzzle no less an art lover than Ann Temkin, the chief curator of painting and sculpture, who has watched the “crazy magnetism” of the painting and her beloved Vincent grow ever since cameras first appeared on phones. “It’s as if taking a photo of a work in a museum means ‘seeing’ it to a viewer, even though someone like me worries that taking the photo replaces seeing it in the slow and thoughtful way I would ideally wish,” Ms. Temkin ruefully concedes at the bustling museum. “And the problem with all the photo-takers is that they make it impossible for someone who wants to do that kind of looking to do so.” […]  As a curator, Ms. Temkin has decided nothing can be done about ravenous phone photographers in museums. “I used to be more judgmental about it, really disapprove,” she says. Lately she sees how audiences at public events watch a big video screen image rather than the actual person in the picture speaking live right there on stage. Something’s happening; she notices celebrity chefs preparing dishes for their photogenic possibilities. She suspects artists are inevitably crafting work with similar nods to the overwhelming social media culture, with all its likes and retweets. “It’s utterly impossible to wrap one’s mind around van Gogh, seeing this going on,” the curator notes affectionately. “Maybe God is good and will let him know he’s beloved,” she says. “But beyond that, he’s not allowed to look,” she advises, protecting Vincent from the madding crowd.



  • Upper Photo: A Starry Night Crowded With Selfies.  The scene in front of Vincent van Gogh’s “The Starry Night” at the Museum of Modern Art earlier this month. Photo by Joshua Bright (
  • Lower Photo: An auction house worker poses for photographers in front of an untitled oil on canvas 1957 painting by Mark Rothko in central London, Monday, Oct. 14, 2013. (AP / Lefteris Pitarakis /


  1. i’m all about the ‘that.’

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Even tho I see “right answer”, I still am delighted with “that”.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Smiling…
    I was about to type that ideally I wish I can go to museums at night when no one is there, then saw the second photo!
    I was at the Art Institute of Chicago last week and almost snapped pictures of a painting by Edward Hopper for you. It didn’t feel right though.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Only in America… or is it ? I wonder if the Louvre lets camera phones any where near the Mona Lisa ??

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Mr. Rothko’s work(s) bring tears to my soul.
    I wish I could say what he said with colour besides feeling his intent so deeply. Perhaps one day…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes. I don’t even wish, it is beyond my comprehension. Your thoughts remind me of a E.E. Cummings passage:

      “A poet is somebody who feels, and who expresses his feelings through words.

      This may sound easy. It isn’t.

      A lot of people think or believe or know they feel — but that’s thinking or believing or knowing; not feeling. And poetry is feeling — not knowing or believing or thinking.

      Almost anybody can learn to think or believe or know, but not a single human being can be taught to feel. Why? Because whenever you think or you believe or you know, you’re a lot of other people: but the moment you feel, you’re nobody-but-yourself.

      To be nobody-but-yourself — in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else — means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.”

      ~ E.E. Cummings: A Miscellany Revised (October House; 1st edition, 1965)

      Liked by 4 people

  6. Don McLean’s song – “Vincent – Starry Starry Night” immediately comes to mind. Love Vincent van Gogh’s art!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I don’t think any photos should be taken of art work on display…I know when I went to see some Old Masters traveling exhibit the lights in the gallery were dimmed.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. How to capture a moment you’re not living in…I find ‘this’ so sad – and disturbing. I’ll go with ‘that’, thank you. I’m beginning to feel pride about being a Luddite.

    Liked by 3 people

  9. One of my favorite songs by Don McLean.
    “They would not listen
    Their not listening still.
    Perhaps they never will.”
    “This world was not meant for one as beautiful as you.”
    Perhaps if they put down their phones and do “That”, they would see the beauty. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  10. DK, I would hazard to guess that anyone who follows you is a THAT. You’ve curated a very special gallery–treasures culled from lost civilizations; fragile, breathtaking souls; fearless works of silence and fire; forgotten Masters restored. I’m proud to hang on your wall.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Oh, I am an unabashed ‘that,’ no two ways about it. In fact, just making plans to go and immerse myself in the luxury of the Rothko exhibition currently on display at the MFA. His work infuses me with a sense of peace so exquisite it’s almost an ache….

    IMHO, art is meant to elicit contemplation, self-reflection or perhaps move you to view things from another perspective. It’s decidedly *not* supposed to be the backdrop for a selfie (she says clamoring down off her soapbox…)

    Liked by 1 person

  12. P.S. Love the song though…long a favorite of mine.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. My husband and I visited the Chicago Art Institute a number of years ago (before children and also before the selfie craze) to see a large Monet exhibit. Monet’s multiple views of the same scene–cathedrals, haystacks, water lilies–were hung together, and to be able to view those multiples together on one wall was breathtaking. Except, of course, that the exhibit was very crowded as we had to wait for our time and then walk in with the crowd. To solve this problem, we moved immediately to the last gallery of the exhibit and worked our way through the exhibit backwards, thus being able to view the gallery of Water Lilies panels nearly alone.

    I, too, am a “that” type, but I must add that I am encouraged by the number of people who are interested in viewing art, even though the people are noisy and block everyone else’s view to record their visit with a selfie. Eventually, the selfie-takers may stop, sit down, and look at the art, too. I think, I hope, that Van Gogh would be amazed and pleased by the overwhelming impact of his paintings on the populace.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Reblogged this on Bright, shiny objects! and commented:
    Good question…

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: