The iPad (insert hackneyed joke about the name here) may be the most powerful indicator of the new direction of our experience of museums and reception of art. Interestingly, the iPad coincides with the release of Nina Simon's book, The Participatory Museum. Worth a read, her book refines (and, in a sense, re-imagines) the institution of the museum, casting it as a changeable form that can relate and react to the visitors' experience. This got me thinking. As children we learned about our world through our senses, and an important sense was our sense of touch. Our understanding of our environment was shaped by the information that our tactile experiences relayed, and the power we did or did not have to change the physicality of our surroundings. Space was something that we inhabited, and in so doing, we left some sort of a tangible mark on the world.
Certainly it may be argued that our travels in cyberspace leave trails as well. But are our senses diluted when filtered through technology--and, as consequence, are we reinventing the role of art in our lives? As more and more people receive art from their computers, cell phones, digital devices, is some part of the artistic experience lost?
Certainly, there are many purists who will (and have) vehemently replied, "YES!" Have you ever heard the phrase "the smell of the greasepaint, the roar of the crowd"? Art, whether experiencing or producing art, is a multi-sensory experience. Although digitization of art enhances collaboration and enables the appreciation of a piece by a broader audience, does technology actual remove part of the essence of what it is to both create and receive the artistic experience? Or is the unique way in which the audience interacts with digitized art the new sixth sense?
As a student, I have become acutely aware of the manner in which I interact with my computer-based work compared to that which I can hold in my hand and mark up with pen or highlighter. I find that I am more present, and more focused, when it is not just me and my glowing computer screen. I don't care to read a book electronically, and though I have tried repeatedly to listen to audiobooks (so that I can, surprise!, mult-task), the book-experience is much less fulfilling when it does not involve a tangible, dog-earable, paper-and-ink product that I can hold in my hand.
Producers of today's art can, potentially, consider myriad factors involving reproduction, dissemination, and audience that change as rapidly as technology. The longevity of an artistic reproduction depends on the longevity of the media used to reproduce it. Watching the Met perform in high definition might, in some ways, be better than getting a nosebleed seat at the real thing--but is it as emotionally powerful as seeing the show live? How about appreciating the "Mona Lisa" daily as your desktop image, only to be startled by the appearance of the actual painting, which, in real life, may have hues you'd never seen? Even music pumped through headphones as you run on the treadmill or ride the subway--your other four senses (and likely your brain) are occupied by the business of existence: you are not a captive audience.
Is a diluted experience in order to reach more people a fair exchange? Are we willing to compromise (or perhaps I should say "accept a differently-imagined") artistic experience for the knowledge and understanding that the pixels reach further than the atoms of oil paint: if there are twice as many eyes or ears or minds receiving the art, does it matter that the collective attention of this audience may be only half as riveted as it would be experiencing the art live and in person?
What do you think?