Ownership Mentality: Art Gallery Prohibits Sketching

from the shoot-him,-he-has-a-tripod! dept

I’ve always been a bit baffled by No Photography signs in museums and art galleries. Presumably they exist to make the exhibits more exclusive and attractive, but that misses the point of why people visit museums: they want to see these things in person, which is a vastly different experience from simply knowing what they look like. Nobody has ever seen a photo of a dinosaur skeleton or Michelangelo’s David and thought “oh good, now I don’t need to go see that for real.”

The other possibility is that the museums are concerned about photographers getting in the way of other patrons, but in that case an outright ban is overkill: people tend to be pretty considerate of each other when you allow social pressure to take its course, and a few “don’t block this hallway” signs in key areas would probably suffice.

Either way, at least most such places only prohibit photography. BoingBoing recently highlighted this even-more-ridiculous notice found at the Art Institute of Chicago:

In case you can’t see the image, it is a sign listing several things that are “NOT permitted” inside the exhibit: “Photography, Flashes, Tripods, Video Camera, Sketching.”

For starters, items two through four seem rather unnecessary in the presence of item one. Are there photographers out there who, after being told they can’t take pictures, set up their tripod and start snapping their flash just for fun? Has someone attempted to evade regulations by claiming that video cameras don’t count as photography? Somehow I doubt it.

Then there’s the concerning presence of “sketching” on the list. Sketching in galleries is a staple among artists, especially students, and it’s impossible to see why anyone would want to ban it. A sketch of a painting or sculpture — even a masterful one that becomes a piece of artwork in its own right — is never going to serve as a replacement for the original. In fact, banning sketching is just going to make the exhibit less attractive to a gallery’s biggest fans: artists. What purpose could such a ban possibly serve?

That’s the problem with the ownership mentality of modern copyright: few people bother to think about purpose because they are too busy thinking about control, operating from a default “cover-all-our-bases” mentality without bothering to ask why. At some point during the drafting of this sign, somebody should have stopped and said “Wait, why do we care?” — but instead they said “Have we forgotten anything? Better throw tripods on there just to be safe.”

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Comments on “Ownership Mentality: Art Gallery Prohibits Sketching”

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111 Comments
DOlz (profile) says:

Re: Did they say for copyright reasons?

I’m sorry to say that I understand the backpack ban and support it. There have been too many cases of vandalism of our cultural legacy (art). With a backpack it would be too easy to bring in spray paint, knives, hammers (The Pieta), … Even food and beverages can accidentally cause problems.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

You have exemplified the whole point of the ban.

It is not the sketch or photograph that is the problem it is the ass taking up space, making a mess, and the whole attitude of the class of people who do do the photographs and sketches combined with laws that require no discrimination in that you can not let the responsible element in with out letting in the irresponsible so everybody is banned.

This is a typical case of one activity being banned to prevent another.

Call me Al says:

Re: Re:

Not to forget that its also really annoying to be in a gallery while people are clicking away with their cameras, I find it very distracting. I think that is one of the reasons for the ban.

But personally I’d argue that if I saw someone sitting and sketching then it would probably improve the ambience of the place.

halley (profile) says:

Re: Re:

The Cloisters Museum in NYC bans flashes at all times (UV is killer), and bans tripods on weekends due to crowds and extra hazards. You can go to the desk and get a tripod pass most of the other times. I’ve done some pro-level panoramic photography in there without a peep from the guards. A housewife with a point ‘n shoot would get reprimanded if a flash goes off, though.

Paul Renault (profile) says:

Re: No Flash policy

At ‘official’ Canadian Museums, you ARE allowed to take photographs of anything that is part of their permanent collections – since, as Canadian citizens, we own the works. Bonus: permanent collections are usually free to visit, for the same reason.

However, there is a strict “No Flash” policy, as this might/will degrade some of the dyes. Flash output is brighter than sunlight.

Ilfar says:

Re: Re:

Settlers Museum in Dunedin, NZ, is okay with photographs, but there’s a strict no flash policy in the portrait gallery. Guards were trained to mention it to anyone we saw taking photos, just a polite, “Just making sure you know to turn your flash off in the portrait gallery, it damages the old paintings.” and a quick lesson in how to identify the flash control on a camera.

Hell, they loved it to bits when photos got taken of the exhibits. They were proud of their exhibits, and wanted as many people to see them as possible. Even just being the guy who wandered round glaring at everyone, _I_ felt proud of being part of something that could be shared round the world.

MAJikMARCer (profile) says:

Re: Fair use & derivative work

I don’t think there is anything illegal going on here, it’s just the museum being short sited. They could pretty much prohibit whatever they wanted on their property, so long as it doesn’t infringe on civil liberties.

I wonder if this could be a class issue? Perhaps some of the sketchers they were trying to remove were perhaps less desirable than the museum would prefer to have as guests.

Then again, this is the Art Institute of Chicago! In addition to the museum they have a school, full of aspiring artists, who SHOULD be using the museum to expand their minds from the techniques of past greats. Sketching and taking notes go hand in hand in art classes. I kept my art class notebooks from college because they are full of sketches taken during lectures.

It helps drive concepts of from and motion when you sketch the piece. And most sketches are just that. They are not accurate reproductions of the original. They typically are quickly done and made to convey a specific piece of info about the artwork or a very generalized concept.

It would be very nice to see a follow-up on this article, to know why the museum has adopted this policy. My guess is a few bad apples (and bad is subjective) ruined it for the bunch.

Ima Fish (profile) says:

Better throw tripods on there just to be safe.

I’d include, “Staring with an intent to remember” in there too, just to be safer.

You certainly don’t want someone memorizing the statute or painting and recreating it at home.

For every artwork I’d include a 5 second timer. Anyone looking for more than 5 seconds would be arrested and charged with 1st Degree Grand Felony Piracy.

Drizzt says:

Reasons why photos aren't allowed

Apart from the reason Deirdre gave above (flash lights damaging the paint), the most common reason you can hear, if you ask nicely, as to why photographs aren’t allowed are either (or both) of the following:
1. They want to sell photographs (in whatever form) themselves.
2. The actual owner of the image isn’t allowing photographs and the “no photo” restriction comes with the contract.

cryptozoologist (profile) says:

it's the flash

the reason that flash photography is usually banned is because the burst of light from a xenon flash tube (or an exploding flashbulb for the older readers) can actually damage certain pigments. the leap from ‘no flash photography’ to ‘no photography’ is because a huge percentage of folks with cameras have no idea how to turn off the flash so a few bad actors ruin it for everyone.

the best rationalization i can come up with is some fool doesn’t want the fire exits gummed up with art students and their sketch pads, but it seems kinda thin to me.

this organization is making a huge mistake because seeing someone sketching a piece brings the museum experience to life, elevating it above a lifeless and sterile stroll through a gallery.

PrometheeFeu (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Video cameras might be a privacy issue. I know I am always a little uncomfortable with people potentially video-taping me. Perhaps they got complains from people who didn’t want to be in someone else’s view-finder and decided that the patrons who didn’t video-tape were more important than those who did. Nothing wrong with that…

Or it might be because people who use video cameras have an unfortunate tendency to make nuisances of themselves by not seeing anything that isn’t in their view-finders potentially backing up into other patrons, exhibits etc…

Michael says:

This is hypocritical

They prohibit sketching? Much of the works on display are copies of other artists’ works. Artists such as Micelangelo, Raphael and others would frequently and openly copy the works of others. How ironic that what occurred frequently back during the Renaissance and other periods would be considered illegal today. Art doesn’t exist in a vaccum; if not for copying, progress in the arts would suffer tremendously.

John Doe says:

Has anyone ever made money off a photograph from a museum or gallery?

I am just getting into oil painting after many years of doing photography as a hobby. I like going to the galleries to get inspiration from the oil paintings there. Most of the time I just start snapping pictures because it is better to beg forgiveness than ask permission. Sometimes I will ask first and they, hesitantly, allow it. Why? Has anyone ever taken a photo of a painting and then gone out and sold prints of the painting? For all the draconian enforcement you would think it is an every day occurrence yet I have never heard of it happening even once.

Maybe they are afraid that I will go home and duplicate the painting? As if! Right now my painting ability is at the 3rd grade level so it will be a long time and a lot of practice before I can do anything worth looking at. Even if I was an experienced painter, I can tell already that every artist has their own style when it comes to color selection, brush stroke, etc. So there is literally now way to copy a painting faithfully.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Has anyone ever made money off a photograph from a museum or gallery?

I guess there are ways to get verrry close that forgers can perpetrate, but I suspect much of the success of a forgery depends on the acumen (or lack thereof) of the intended victim.

I agree, though. As a fellow painter, I know right off the bat that I can try to emulate a style or method, but I will never match or even ever know the mindwork that went into something, the motivations for choices made, if they were concious decisions or acts of impulse or merely chance marks made in a moment of distraction that happened to work out somehow.

I find it so odd for some artists to deny other artists the opportunity to try, yanno? Like they’ve got a lock on the process…it’s how THEY learned, right? Studying and practicing on those that went before. Part of the pure joy of art training is collaboration with your classmates. At least it was for me.

/ramble 😉

ChrisB (profile) says:

Irony

I went to the Andy Warhol Museum. I had my 0.3 Megapixel flashless camera (this was 2002) and took a few pictures of some of his paintings. It was a weekday, no one was there, and some girl comes up to me and says, “No pictures.” First, there was no signage anywhere that said no pictures. I guess it is just assumed. Second, THIS IS ANDY WARHOL. Most of his art is taken from popular images like celebrity photos, consumer products, and newspaper photos.

By the way, when you leave the Warhol museum, you exit through the gift shop.

Robert P (profile) says:

Not as bad as it sounds?

A little googling indicates Chicago’s not the only one. From what I’ve seen, this isn’t a copyright thing. Chicago does it only in a limited fashion. They restrict sketching in certain galleries where they have an exhibit that’s only going to be available for a short period. They have high traffic volume through that area, so they limit sketching to avoid having people standing around (interrupting the other people who are moving through).

I may not like the idea, but if that’s the reason, it seems like a reasonable approach. Allow more people to see the exhibit at the cost of limiting the amount of time artists can spend sketching.

shiroboshi (profile) says:

Image Licensing

I guess it is an natural follow on from this:
http://www.artic.edu/aic/image_licensing/index.html
They are providing digital images. No word about costs, though…

This ( http://www.artic.edu/aic/image_licensing/general_info.html ) says that non-commercial photography in available light is permitted…

Their standard policy on the website seems reasonable for a museum. The sign may be referring to a modern piece of artwork still covered under copyright?

Philip (profile) says:

Reasons for no photographs

Historically, it was actually to protect the art. Earlier flashes could actually cause physical deterioration of paintings. And, as with all rules (think no electronics on plane take orr of landing), it just remained and updated itself to current technology.

Now, people have skewed the original meaning, and reasoning, into that of “copyright” (all the latest copyright pushes), when in reality the rule originally had nothing to do with copyright. The rule has suck, and being broadened where ever possible.

Michael says:

Re: Jumping to conclusions

No, nor does it have to be to shine a light on this sort of overreation. However, we are free to draw parallels between the two. For example, why was it perfectly ok for artists to derive from others’ works back then yet it’s considered illegal today? If somebody goes into their local bar, sits down and plays a few Beatles tunes, for example, how does this harm the artists?

Anonymous Coward says:

All light “damages” everything from biological to non-biological, the question is how much loss per year is acceptable?

Remember light dims with distance, it losses half the power at each 3 foot or so(I think(cd?sr?m E−02)) and digital cameras today not only have flashes that can emit UV but use lasers, infrared and ultraviolet light as range finders, those scare curators too.

Another consideration that may fall better in here is that many galleries don’t allow photography because of copyright concerns, if you take a photo you own it and that is a problem for others, copyright once more proving how useless it is.

Source:
Assessing the harm done by flash photography by Martin H. Evans
Wikipedia: Photo-oxidation of polymers
Wikipedia: Lumen (unit)
Lux

V (profile) says:

Ouch... you're wrong this time...

Actually… I have to say you made a bad call with this one Marcus.

The fact is… there IS an ownership mentality because those are physical paintings and works of art with OWNERS. They OWN the PHYSICAL work. Accordingly, they can do what they want with it.

I agree with TechDirt about IP and how crazy it is… but physical work is a tangible, ownable good. Someone paid (probably) ALOT of work to hold that physical good and they have the right (I would even say RESPONSIBLITY) to keep that work intact.

So, I’m going to have to disagree with you on this one. While it would be nice to take a picture of something beautiful and inspiring… the fact is, since it’s a physical object, and they DO actually OWN it… they can pretty much do what they want.

Of course, I can exercise MY right to not support the artist, the gallery or the mueseum. But I don’t have the right to demand that I be able to do this or that with someone else’s physical property. That’s sounding too much like the entitlement that Big Media has…

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Ouch... you're wrong this time...

It’s the oldest story: After a rainy spell, Grog slipped and fell and jammed his hand into a mucky puddle of oxidated iron dust, and as he righted himself he placed his muddied hand upon the cave wall and called it “art”. This intrigued the rest of Grog’s tribe so much that Og thought he might also make this “art”, put his hand in the muck and smacked it upon the cave wall too.

So Grog beat him to death with a mastodon femur for ripping him off.

MAJikMARCer (profile) says:

Re: Ouch... you're wrong this time...

I don’t have a big issue with disallowing photography, especially flash photography, but what is the problem with sketches? They certainly are not reproductions of the original, at least not as much as photograph.

They may be a problem with sketchers, but as a private facility they can be asked to leave. I believe this is simply a nuclear solution to a few problem sketchers. A few sketchers doing things they shouldn’t have banned sketching for all, even those who would not have been a problem. Really it’s too bad and in my opinion lazy of the museum.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Ouch... you're wrong this time...

As an artist, the minute you put it up in a museum, you are doing it for the public interests, and attention…the public culture.

You don’t want people looking at it and trying to copy it? Don’t stick it in the museum! Keep it on your wall at home and you won’t have to worry about it!

Anonymous Coward says:

I have not read the whole article or had time to see if anyone mentioned this yet because I’m at work but I think a side point on this topic is important. I hate the ownership mentality and it is most offensive to me in the world of art and culture (including pop music) but there are good reasons to restrict *flash* photography. Obvs not an excuse here, but all photography restrictions are not created equal. The light can be damaging to a lot of mediums but a good museum will make the distinction.

PaulT (profile) says:

“Nobody has ever seen a photo of a dinosaur skeleton or Michelangelo’s David and thought “oh good, now I don’t need to go see that for real.””

In fact, quite the opposite. How many people visit the Louvre every year just to see the Mona Lisa up close, for example, even though everybody knows exactly what the painting looks like? A few years ago, I travelled to Gruy?res, Switzerland simply to look at sculptures and artwork from my favourite artist, H.R. Giger. The driving reason for even visiting that country was because I’d already seen most of his work in books but longed to see them up close…

I can understand bans of flash photography for concern over cumulatively damaging the art. I can even understand concern over tripods due to safety. But, sketching and non-flash handheld photography? Nothing there I can think of that’s not a misguided misrepresentation of copyright and ownership.

Anonymous Coward says:

If the art gallery is private they can pretty much tell you what you may and may not do while you are a guest in the gallery, unless you wish to live in a country where the “people” own everything and the individual only has those rights given to him by the “people”.

I want to live in a country where I have property rights, not where the “people” do.

Anonymous Coward says:

Museum Traffic Flow

My guess is that it has nothing to do with ownership but to maintain traffic flow past the exhibit. These students are setting up camp in front to capture the perfect angle blocking everyone else from seeing the same view. They’re tripping up people who are not looking down as to actually view the exhibit.

It’s about manners.

davnel (profile) says:

Fairly Reasonable

If our esteemed commenters would be so kind as to read the article before commenting, and most especially read the AIC policy under “Image Licensing” most of the questions would be answered. They allow photos of established AIC exhibits, under available light, but not new or short period exhibits. Anything else must be requested with up to two weeks for approval (if you get it).

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Well, I guess any Art Students in Chicago should find another museum to check out. I’m sure some adjacent city has one..

Circus World, Baraboo, Wisconsin

The Origins of Ringlingville 1884-1918

The Ringling Bros. Circus was founded in Baraboo, WI, in 1884 by five brothers: Al, Otto, Charles, John and Alf T. Ringling. Ringlingville was the name for the original Ringling Bros. Circus winter quarters in Baraboo. The buildings, standing along the north bank of the Baraboo River, date from 1897 through 1918 and are the largest surviving group of original circus structures in North America. There are also remains of a footbridge which employees took to cross the river in the winter.

The world-famous circus wintered in Baraboo for 34 years until 1918, the year before it merged with the Barnum & Bailey Show (which the Ringlings purchased in 1907) to become the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Combined Shows.

[…more…]

Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Combined Shows.

Anonymous Coward says:

Isn’t the Art INSTITUTE of Chicago a SCHOOL for artists, or at least from their website it indicates that there is a school there. I could see the hallways being blocked with dozens of students sketching. I think you are over-thinking this one and assuming they are doing this for exclusivity reasons, when I think the resaon is purely for allowing access by other patrons. This is tantamount to a “No Loitering” sign but singles-out sketching because it probably became a problem for other visitors.

Anonymous Coward says:

Mike, I think you’re making a mountain out of a molehill, or perhaps, having identified the problematic theme of too great a focus on “ownership,” you’re being too quick to pigeonhole every problem into that category. Yes, for the most part photo bans are silly and unnecessary. But many of those who take photographs can be distracting and rude. Sure, there could be a rule that say “Don’t be rude and distracting,” that (if follwoeD) might keep photographers from continually clicking a loud shutter, or using a flash, or blocking the views of others in a crowded gallery. But as others point out, that’d be a hard rule to enforce in practice. Easier to say “no photography.” Not an ideal fix, by any means, but not necessary related to a claim of “ownership” (other than authority to condition access to the gallery). Sketching (although awesome, great, laudable, which-I-had-that-skill, etc.) can be even more disruptive. Peopel sketching often take up more space, and other people aroudn them understandably try to give them some extra room. In a crowded gallery, that can be a problem. Not to mentiont he problem other docents pointed out above with sketchers sometimes doing bizarrely and obviously wrong thigns with their drawing materials. I hope most galleries allow people to come in an sketch at certain times (and I believe the ICA in Chicago does), but I udnerstand why they’d want people not to do it during general admission times, as a proxy for “don’t be loud and disruptive, and sorry, but we’re trying to herd a 100 people an hour through here, so try not to stay too long, will ya?”

I think a good comparison is movie theaters and cell phones. The rules against texting and using your phone in a theater are often draconian (yay Alamo Draft House), but even though they function to prevent you from using your phone to record the soundtrack to your voicemail, or your camera phone to record the movie, the purpose of such bans is basically so you won’t be distracting to other people. You can still be distratcing in other ways, and some people might be able to silently text in ways that were not distracting at all, but the cell phone ban is a an easy, bright line rule to apply. And it’s go little or nothign to do with inappropriate claims of ownerhip over a movie screening.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

…except for three dimensional works which might be photographed from different angles.

Circus Wagon Collection, Baraboo, Wisconsin

Circus World is home to the largest collection of intricately carved and beautifully restored circus wagons.

Photographing a circus wagon is hard! For one, they’re huge, and then to utterly confound you and your lens, they’re so beautifully and intricately carved that you want to capture the details. But what kind of shot just documents an artifact, without scene and character?

Patty says:

They ban photography because constant exposure to light can ruin some mediums ( usually paints) they have a universal no photography rule because its easier than having a bunch of security making sure people “just don’t use the flash”.

I’ve never understood grown people and backpacks, there’s places they are appropriate say hiking when you need water or other supplies or school. Not sure you need many supplies to look at paintings and sculpture,even if you are sketching a few pencils and a sketch pad are hardly worth bringing your backpack.

I’m not sure I get the no sketching thing, all I can think of is that galleries that have limited seating areas were getting complaints that people didn’t have a place to sit, like the elderly or the disabled. But that’s it..and that doesn’t seem very likely most people would move for someone that needed the seat more right?..RIGHT?!

I don’t think its about copyrights at all since most pictures in a gallery are easily found on the internet already. Most galleries rules are for the protection of the art, and for the safety of the viewers.

Ray Trygstad (profile) says:

This was one of the huge disappointments of my son's life

When my youngest son was little, one of his FAVORITE books was Diane Stanley and Dennis Nolan’s book The Gentleman and the Kitchen Maid, about a young artist copying paintings in “a great art museum”. Every winter we would take a father-son day-long trip to Chicago and when he was about ten he decided he wanted to take all his art stuff and go copy a painting at the Art Institute of Chicago, like the artist character in the book. So we planned the trip around that as the highlight; when we got there and found that they did not allow that he was crushed. For God’s sake, even the Louvre allows artists to copy paintings. This killed any chance of my ever becoming a member of the Art Institute, despite living a mere 30 miles away. And it was a serious bump in the road in the young life of a pretty talented yet troubled child.

byte^me (profile) says:

Not as simple as you might think

I’ve been to the Art Institute of Chicago and if I remember correctly, the only post this for special exhibits. For example, when I last went there, they had a special exhibit of Soviet propaganda posters from the 1940’s. Photographs were banned in that exhibit. My assumption is that this was due to the book they were selling that contained pictures of all of the art in that exhibit.

I also think the comments about tripods, flash photography, etc. being a nuisance are probably accurate. For example, someone using a tripod to take pictures would be extremely annoying, especially considering how crowded some parts of the museum were.

They have posted their full policies at http://www.artic.edu/aic/visitor_info/geninfo.html.

Lawrence D'Oliveiro says:

Further Ownership Mentality?

I was with some friends a few days ago who had gone on a tour of the ?Hobbiton? set at Matamata (as used in the ?Lord of the Rings? movies). They showed us the photographs they had taken, but apparently they were told they could not make free use (e.g. publication/redistribution) of those photos, beyond personal purposes.

I checked the hobbitontours.com website, but could find no info about such a policy. I have sent them a query through their site form, to see what they?ll tell me.

Lawrence D'Oliveiro says:

Re: Further Ownership Mentality?

Yup, just got a reply to my query. All visitors to Hobbiton are required to sign a form that says the following (bold emphasis theirs):

The property you are about to enter is a working film production location. Everything here is the
confidential trade secret and proprietary information of the film production company, 3 Foot 7 Limited.

You must keep what you see and hear strictly confidential.

Information acquired by you here must not be disclosed by any means to anyone (including your family and friends).

These disclosure restrictions also apply to Twitter, Facebook, You-tube, My-space or any social networks, blogs, websites or the internet generally.

You are permitted to bring cameras and recording devices but only on the condition that any photography or recording is to be used for your personal, private and non-commercial uses ONLY.

By signing below you are confirming you understand that:

(a) as a condition of your access you are bound by a legal obligation of confidentiality;
(b) if you breach your obligation of confidentiality you may be sued; and
(c) all rights to (including copyright in) any recordings or photographs used for any unauthorized purpose will immediately vest in the film production company upon such breach.

So, is this sort of thing reasonable?

G Thompson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Further Ownership Mentality?

Not reasonable in any way.

Expecially since any photo’s taken are actually the copyright of the photographer (unless you’re a monkey *grin*) and that non-commercial usage is actually a misnomer since in a legal sense commercial usage of photo’s, films, et.al means that those mediums are to be used for the commercial ADVERTISING of products and or services ONLY and that therefore all other actions INCLUDING SELLING are classified as non-commercial usages.

Specifying photos can only be used for private AND personal purposes is bordering on undue influence and is a voidable clause of so called “confidentiality form” since there is no consideration (quid pro quo).

Also clause (c) is so unenforceable its not funny. Its a psychological intimidation statement. Also clause (a) is also wrong since again there is no consideration as part of contract.

A company can either refuse the taking of film/video/audio on their property or not. They can NOT stipulate how those images/vision can be used under copyright, which they do not own. Even under trademark they would have to prove dilution and/or passing off which brings us back again to what is defined as non-commercial usage… basically EVERYTHING that does not involve advertising/promotion.

The ONLY way this contract might hold up is if there is an existing employment/agency relationship with the owners and visitors for the purpose of the visitation. Though NOT in a private/personal visitation outside of that relationship.

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