Priority, not Privilege

Communities and cultures often create interpretations of artworks from art history professionals. When in the museum setting, curators are the individuals that decide which exhibitions come to life, which artworks are included, and where to hang those works on the walls. Each of these decisions influences how the public views and interprets art, knowingly or unknowingly. The interface that is generated by simply having an exhibition in a museum automatically labels those artworks as “real” art. Additionally, excluding artworks from an exhibition changes the exhibition’s interface without the public’s knowledge. Lastly, deciding where to hang the artwork creates an interface, a story that the public has no control over. From beginning to end, curators are controlling the narrative, and usually, there is little room for other voices to be heard. 

Alternatively, digital interfaces, like Google Arts and Culture, remove the limitations of a physical exhibition in a museum or gallery. For example, a person is able to personally sort the artworks on Arts and Culture by period, color, artist, medium, etc. This freedom is impossible in a museum. A person literally has the ability to look at and compare artwork from around the globe in a matter of seconds. However, there are limitations to this interface, too. The viewer loses scale, depth, and the texture of the artwork. While there are physical limitations from translating the 3D world to a 2D interface, the benefits certainly are greater. A person is able to discover meanings on their own accord, without the hinderance of traveling to a particular museum. Those same meanings can be with, or without, the influence of an art history professional (if the person chooses to read the description of the piece). Inaccessibility to the physical artwork does not limit a person’s ability to generate their own opinions, meanings, or interfaces. Art and artifacts that are in museums belong to the people. Museum professionals are simply stewards of the collection, and we’re finally headed into a time that views remote accessibility to objects as a priority, and not a privilege.