3 #musetech days in Copenhagen – Day 3: Discussing digitization and culture at #digcrit seminar in Statens Museum for Kunst


As a late closure of my trilogy of #musetech events in Copenhagen I want to give a short comment on the seminar ”critique of digital reason” (hashtag #digcrit), November 7th 2014, at the Danish art gallery Statens Museum for Kunst, where four international speakers presented their views on digital developments in the cultural sector (find part 1 of my series about the #HintMe Tweetup at Statens Museum for Kunst here and part 2 about digital tendencies in museums after work session at Bysted here).

Do digital devices give a greater distance to art works?

Neal Stimler from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York enthusiastically presented the functions of his Google Glasses and how they probably could enhance a museum experience (watch his speech here). Marcos Novak, professor for Media Arts and Technology at the University of California Santa Barbara, said – among others – that devices will never overcome reality (watch his speech here). Thorbjørn Wulf, system administrator at Statens Museum for Kunst, claimed that looking at art with lots of digital (and analog) extra information prevents us from really experiencing the original art works (watch his speech here). Susana Bautista, Interim Deputy Director of the USC Pacific Asia Museum, talked more practically about the challenges, museums face in a digitized society (you find here speech here).

If Heidegger was museum director in 2014...

If Heidegger was museum director in 2014…

Of course, Thorbjørn Wulf’s views (also presented in an article in the Danish newspaper Information on December, 9th and in the summary in Statens Museum for Kunst’s blog) were polarizing in a modern museum, which provides its most popular art works for free download with Creative Commons’ Public Domain license and with its #HintMe project encourages visitors to discuss art works online. Of course, statements like “digital devices give a greater distance to art works” provoked an audiences, that constantly shared and discussed the seminar on Twitter and Instagram. Doesn’t it perfectly mirror our current culture that we watch, share and discuss art at the same time?

Digital art experience could be the only experience some people can afford

Because of these different points of view I really enjoyed the panel discussion in the end of the seminar – you can watch it here. One of the most interesting subjects (for me) was the debate about digitizing art works and presenting them online. While Thorbjørn Wulf said ”Why should you use digital technology and produce data? You have to go back to the original and go from there (…)”, Neal Stimler pointed on the great benefit to have the ability to learn about collections in the whole world, which wouldn’t be possible without this technology. Marcos Novak asked: ”Maybe more people come, but do they get the same benefit?” and came with an McDonald’s analogy: ”Just because you make the food cheaper, people don’t get better food.” Susana Bautista took a more pragmatically point of view by saying: ”We have to understand that both experiences – online and offline – are different, but it is a powerful democratizing effect, because digital could be the only experience some people can afford.”

Neal Stimler (left) shows his Google Glasses to seminar participants.

Neal Stimler (left) shows his Google Glasses to seminar participants.

In this debate I share Susana Bautista’s point of view. Of course, seeing a digital copy of an art work is not the same as seeing the original in a museum. But the most people can’t travel around the globe to see all paintings in all museums. Then it would gain their education, if they at least had the possibility to see and compare art works online (for example in a school or university context). We definitely profit from the possibility to download, study and work with digital copies of art works. Later on we can more precisely plan our future museum visits and enjoy the originals.

What is your opinion? – Feel free to join the discussion and add your comment.

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