Last week I had a bit of a rant. This time I’m calmer

Last week I had a bit of a rant. And then went on holiday for a couple of days to the countryside and got to play with a lovely dog called Rita, who took all my angst away.  But whilst I was away it appears that being called Claire and having a rant was contagious.  My boss Claire also had a rant on her blog.   Both of our rants ended up with some interesting comments.  Check Claire’s blog post out about Anthologize here and her follow up to the comments here.   I wish my rant was as eloquently put.
But back to my rant.  Frankie believed my post to be a bit unfair and with hindsight he is correct.  I still stand by the fact that if you claim  to have yet, however, to come across an outfit, small or large, whose goal was to make their entire collection, or even a substantial majority of it, available online. And then use the National Gallery as an example, who’s entire collection is online, then you need to do your homework a bit better.   Normally I am quite up and ready to have a conversation about museum websites and online collections, but for some reason I found myself to be incredibly agitated by the Read Write Web article.  Potentially my agitation was ignited by the opening statement that ‘No one can have a “museum experience” without stepping foot in a museum.’  I don’t think that is true.
For me any type of interaction with any type of museum content is a museum experience.

For example, I went to the Henry Moore exhibition a couple of weeks back (big up to Anne for getting me in for free) and I spent about an hour pondering the shapes and textures. But staring at art is only one museum experience. What about learning, engagement and individual meaning making? For me that can be best achieved online in my own time at my own pace, without being surrounded by lots men and women in suits doing the amateur art critic look on a Friday night at the Tate Britain. Admittedly it was great to go with Anne and talk about the objects in front of the objects, but for personal reflection I did that online in my living room with a cup of tea. After the physical visit; so the website isn’t acting as an advertisement but an enhancement of the physical visit, after I have been. On the website I went round the gallery again finding out more context about the artist, and the theme of the rooms and this helped me to create my own personal interpretation of the art works.

Frankie points out in his post that: We’re good at building web experiences which are optimised at getting users to the thing they’re after (usually information) as quickly as possible, via carefully considered navigation and relevance-optimised search. What we’re less good at is building web experiences where the user sits back and is simply entertained/amazed/enthralled by things they wouldn’t have otherwise come across.

I don’t think this is true.  Ok so not an art example but… I haven’t had a physical museum experience in the science museum for a couple of years, but I visit their website at least once a week. I have become obsessed with thingdom, it’s a thoroughly brilliant learning game, it’s engaging and enjoyable. Is it trying to replicate the physical museum experience? No, it’s creating an online museum experience of it’s very own. And I love it.

Another Arty example: The joy of high resolution images. More and more museums have realised this and can do brilliant things with zoomability.  Birmingham Museums & Art Gallery Pre-Raphaelite collection springs to mind. This is a brilliant resource and for me is a great museum experience.  I have never been to BMAG but I have used this resource many times, and certainly feel like I’m getting a quality museum experience.

The statement about museum experience from the article in essence not only poopoos museum websites, but also temporary exhibition spaces, external installations, and most importantly museum outreach.  Outreach by museums is one of the most experiential scenarios you can be a part of. So yes, it was very definitely that sentence which caused large alarm bells to go off in my tiny little mind. There are so many museums (art ones, history ones, archaeological ones, local ones, large ones, small ones, ones the size of your head) who are doing brilliant work online and elsewhere.  I hope this article actually is the start of a conversation and will do further articles about the museums and online content.

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4 thoughts on “Last week I had a bit of a rant. This time I’m calmer

  1. Point taken about the National Gallery – though perhaps they don’t make it obvious that their entire collection is online (or if that’s a goal)?

    In terms of “museum experience”, I agree, but I guess it all depends on semantics and what you consider a “museum experience” to be. The point I think the original author was making is simply that an online experience can’t hope to simply replicate or replace an in-museum experience (for art) – which is surely something we can all agree with? Online museum experiences aren’t the same as, or necessarily better or worse than in-museum experiences, but different.

    I don’t mean to completely defend the article though – there are clearly some bits that are poorly worded and had the potential to wind museum professionals up – I just saw it as positive that someone was taking such an enthusiastic interest in the art museum online sector!

    It inspired me to think more about the actual experience of art online anyway (rather than just the about-the-museum stuff).

    1. Thanks Frankie, But does any museum website claim to replicate or replace an in museum experience? I dont know whether they do. It seems that its a very much outdated statement and one that should be used with care. I agree it is positive that it is now a subject thats talkable about in a wider context. great stuff. And yes it has got me thinking about how I have experiences in/with content from different types of museums/galleries/libraries/cultural spaces and how its is percieved online. Let the conversation continue. 🙂

  2. Re: “Thanks Frankie, But does any museum website claim to replicate or replace an in museum experience?”

    No, I’m sure none do. But there are plenty of people out there who still perceive that any attempt to present art (or other museum objects) online is competing with the “real” thing, which in their eyes is always better seen in-person. I suspect that the author of the article mentioned the museum experience simply as a caveat to counter these types of comments?

  3. I’ve been pondering one of the points you made here since I read it a few weeks back, and I keep coming back to it and repeating it to people. I think it’s a really good point:

    You said: ‘I went to the Henry Moore exhibition a couple of weeks back… and I spent about an hour pondering the shapes and textures. But staring at art is only one museum experience. What about learning, engagement and individual meaning making? For me that can be best achieved online in my own time at my own pace, without being surrounded by lots men and women in suits doing the amateur art critic look on a Friday night at the Tate Britain.’

    This, for me, is a strong argument for museums and galleries putting their collections online should have their objects online but I hadn’t really clarified my thoughts on it until I read your post.

    As I think my last sentence just proves, I’m someone who takes time to absorb things. My first reaction isn’t always my final one. I express myself better when I’ve had time to think, and sometimes write things down. I sometimes feel pressured when visiting somewhere with people, or just with other people around who I feel know more about what I’m looking at or who read faster than me. Particularly with art, I’m fairly ignorant and feel I don’t know what to ‘do’ when I look at a painting, and then I panic and get nothing from it.

    Being able to take the time, as you describe, to sit on my own sofa, in surroundings I feel happy in, and ponder something I’ve just seen in a museum, is a way in which I would feel more comfortable and perhaps more able to engage with a work of art.

    It doesn’t take away from the value of seeing the real thing, but it gives me the thinking time, and the familiar surroundings, and the security and comfort I personally need to develop my thoughts.

    Other people might have other reasons, but I think if you and I both feel like this, then others may well do as well.

    So thanks, I completely agree, and thanks for making me think about it. Might write my own blog post now!

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