Friday, June 10, 2011

Computer Art

I am a docent, or soon to be, with a rather reputable museum on the east coast.  I like it so far and hope to be effective once I can lead tours.  Like most museums, this one uses technology to assist the processes of running the joint and administering a variety of programs.  Fair enough; technology is everywhere and to deny it is futile, though none of us is obligated to follow each new technology just because it is available.

We're getting iPads to assist with tours.  I find the idea exceptionally intrusive.  I wonder if there is potential debate among the docents about the usefulness of it but I don't really care all that much if there is.  One imagines for those with limited knowledge in art or art history, or even the art on exhibition, it could help to have quick access to easy information available during the tour.  I imagine even I could benefit from it as I am not so well versed in specific instances and moments in art's chronology. 

But the irony for me is this museum's docents use VTS, Visual Thinking Strategies, an inquiry based model of looking at and thinking about art.  So it's my job to ask "What do you see" and encourage you to make connections with other ideas and issues in society.  We don't do the rote lecture -- or, from my understanding, not often as the mission is more about facilitating conversation and thought than telling you what to think.  The idea being that the "authoritative voice" discourages you from engaging and pursuing your own ideas around the stuff you're looking at.  True enough.

So why am I spending time now looking up the right answers to questions?  Why am I doing the work of connecting the dots for the audience? 

Beyond this, I am firm in my belief that there comes a point when technology interferes with the art experience.  I know the other docents; I can see some of them obsessing over a problem with the iPad and neglecting the point of a tour, becoming determined to make the iPad work in order to find the one piece of requested information. 

There is a lot of tech based art work out there and getting over fear of interacting with tech is good -- it's necessary if any of us want to understand where this tech art comes from.  Just getting over the tech hang-up enough so more of us use the docent blog for conversation and resources would help.  But making ourselves dependent on technology to talk about any and all art is an obstacle to real interaction from where I see it.  Why should the audience trust themselves when I hold the key to all the correct information in my hand?  People believe the information they get from a computer -- they take it as an authoritative truth.  It's a very common human tendency.  So having the iPad at the ready is no different from me spouting a bunch of crap, telling the audience what the art is and I see the potential for this to undermine the museum experience and the VTS process.