An Unfiltered Take On The New (Instagram) Museum Experience

The scene is all too familiar. Lines—very long lines—stretching around corners and through bookshops. The visitors, who seem energized by a tangible collective momentum, stand ready to participate in the new first-person narrative of the museum experience: Instagram.

On weekends I moonlight as a tour guide for the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. I am no stranger to the rise of readymade Instagram museum moments. But, unlike some contemporary critics, I don’t hold a particularly negative view about this current fixture of exhibit life.

I studied Art History and Economics and have always held interest in innovative structures that support artists and museums; the fact that the San Francisco Museum of Ice Cream sold out its six-month run in 90 minutes ultimately presents me with more hope than it does with disdain for what many perceive to be the deteriorating “art experience.”  (And, I must confess, I have an Instagram of my own. So perhaps I’m a little biased.)

What I find fascinating about this growing change stems from the interactions I have with people I meet on tours. There’s a steadily growing number of young people, oddly enough, who express skeptical feelings about the authenticity of art created by artists who utilize digital methods—a confusing conundrum that presents an intriguing way to think about the rise of social media and art.

A question I routinely ask myself is why these young people, who operate in near digital ubiquity, aren’t the first to accept the inclusion of digital art in museums?

My best guess is that museums have, for so long, represented institutions built for the purpose of memorializing ancient relics. It seems to follow that, for at least the more sporadic museum-goer, modern art would present a natural hurdle for comprehension and ultimate acceptance.

But where things get interesting, for me at least, is the consideration that many of these young people have come to the museum expressly for the purpose of making art (yes, I am calling Instagram art) upon a foundation that is inherently borrowed and digitally conceived—and they proudly display it on their digital walls with comparatively less attention paid to its authentic quality.

In the end, I don’t have a clear answer for why I encounter this skepticism. But here’s why the entire situation makes me hopeful.

I think critiquing art, viewing art, and even creating art, is an exercise in reflective observation. For all the flack we throw at social media for producing a superficial reality (the “fake news” of lived experiences), I think as more people begin to recognize that Instagram is, by and large, an artistic expression, the more people will begin to engage with one another in thoughtful critique, intrigue, and perhaps even mutual adoration.

Art has always been our great equalizer—capable of traversing geographic and social boundaries and connecting the peoples of the world through sheer expression. The light at the end of the tunnel, or perhaps the light at the end of the eight-hour museum line, is that we might just be getting closer to realizing our shared humanity.

And this is why I’m excited to be joining LGND, where design and technology are used to create and tell stories about issues that impact the world around us. We all come from different backgrounds, but we share a passion for storytelling and we fundamentally believe in the power of stories to shape how we think about our history and design a better world for our future.

Having the opportunity to create art with your colleagues everyday? Let’s just call that a perk of the job.

Molly Clements

Author Molly Clements

Molly’s favorite part about digital storytelling is that it combines visual and written forms to create virtual experiences that compel real action.

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