Jessica Helfand | Photos

What’s Wrong With This Picture?


Left: Assembled school children in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. Right: Assembled adults in the Louvre, Paris (Photography: Bonnie SIegler)

On the left, young visitors to Amsterdam's Rijksmuseum sit with their backs to Rembrandt's Night Watch, arguably his most famous painting, which was completed in 1642. Staring into their smartphones, they could be anywhere: at home, at school, on the subway, asleep. 

This picture has been making the rounds online, evidence of an increasingly recognizable and yes, all-too-common behavior. (One person proposed the comical, if unlikely possibility that these kids were focusing on the painting's QR code.) What does 1642 mean in 2014 and how are they supposed to relate to it?

The photo on the right shows a feeding frenzy of a different sort: tourists not looking but instead, feverishly snapping pictures of the Mona Lisa, Leonardo da Vinci's 16th-century masterpiece, on a recent afternoon in Paris at the Louvre. These people are “relating” by taking their own pictures of the most famous picture in the world. 

Screens are like crack: addictive, antisocial, relentless in their sly, psychological pull. Tecnological progress is clearly not the same as cultural progress. Which is tragic. And also, true.





Comments [3]

This is so depressing. We think we've come pretty far as humans but dare I say our best days may have just passed us by? Let's hope not. On the plus side, this article makes me want to try and leave my iPhone off for a few days—could you imagine?!
Erika Ruiz
12.16.14
06:43

I was not the one who formulated these replies. I’ll tell you what’s wrong with this picture: assumption. This picture has gone viral as thousands of people deliver searing indictments of both smartphones and teens. I’ve met a couple of teens. I’ve had a couple smartphones. Could these teens be playing Angry Birds or texting stupid jokes to each other? Yeah, they could. But they could also be researching provenance for that painting or taking a second to text a friend about how amazing the museum is or completing an assignment given off-screen by someone standing just beside the photographer. They could be taking notes about the palette choice so that later they turn into a generation of artists that take your breath away. Also I refuse to subscribe to the idea that looking at paintings is Inherently a more valid experience than angry birds or texting stupid jokes. What ever brings joy or brings people together is valuable and should not be demeaned. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------ What's wrong with people taking pictures of art? Shouldn't you be celebrating it, if nothing else? The painting is so famous that they can barely snap a picture of it. If you want them to be satisfied with the split second that the crowd parts to see the Mona Lisa, then you're setting yourself up for a double standard. "Man, look at these KIDS! THE ART IS THERE! LOOK AT IT! STOP LOOKING AT PHONES!" "Man, look at these ADULTS! THE ART IS THERE FOR 2 SECONDS! LOOK AT IT! OBSERVE! Wait, you can't see it? Well, god FORBID that you use those... CAMERAS. You'd be like a kid if you did. Wait, you only looked at the art for 2 seconds? YOU DON'T APPRECIATE IT ENOUGH, YOU... YOU'RE LIKE THOSE TEENS!" Pictures are proofs of our memories, our lives, a memento that we keep. Who cares if thousands of others have gone there as well? No picture is the same as another. Each picture has a backstory. That picture is yours, a picture saved to your camera or phone and you can look at it proudly and say, "I was there. In person. For my vacation. And the crowds! I pressed 'Capture' as someone shoved near me. I could barely get this picture, but isn't this art beautiful?" ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- “Screens are like crack: addictive, antisocial, relentless in their sly, psychological pull. Tecnological progress is clearly not the same as cultural progres. Which is tragic. And also, true.” Okay, what do you want these teens to do though? Stare at the painting the entire time they’re there and pee their pants because “mY LORD IT’S REMBRANDT’S MOST FAMOUS PAINTING?” They probably looked at it for a minute or so and went, “wow, I can barely paint a face on a jack-o-lantern” and then took a seat to do whatever on their phone, which could be texting friends, family, checking what’s relevant to them and the time they live in like getting updates on world news via Twitter or Facebook or Tumblr or whatever. This painting might be relevant to their class report or something, but other than that, it’s not really all that important to them and hating on them for it is petty, bitter, and unrealistic. It’s like getting mad at rain for being wet. It's like getting mad at the janitor at a church who swept up paint in the Renaissance for not appreciating Michelangelo's work as much as the Pope did. Different people, different perspectives. But all do share an awe for it. Keep going back in time, maybe teens would’ve been listening to their walkmans or reading books, or wanting to get back outside to play stick and hoop or something. Kids are kids, and unless every kid is passionate about history and old paintings, most of them aren’t going to be freaking out over a really old painting when they have so much data in the palm of their hand on a tiny screen. This one frame cannot and does not tell the whole story. They probably already looked at the painting for a good while. They’re done, so they are sitting and chilling. And if they didn't, what purpose does it serve to write an article about them like this? “OOOH SO ANTISOCIAL TECHNOLOGICAL PROGRESS OH THE NEW GENERATION DOESN’T APPRECIATE OLD FART ART THEY’RE SO DUMB.” Like a caveman ooghing and ughing about the kids wanting to play with wolf pups instead of admiring their ancestors’ cave paintings. C’mon, man. Acting like this about teens serves literally no actual positive purpose. --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Phones are important! Seriously. While in England, I was constantly stealing my dad’s camera and his phone to take pictures of everything. I even had my own phone, which didn’t have service, for pictures and to keep recordings of everything. Even though I wasn’t using it to jot down everything or to text people, I did have it out and I wasn’t afraid to use it. I desired to record all of my wanderings through historical places with whatever electronic I had on me. If I had had service, the pictures would have been everywhere filled with captions that of smilings and excitement because /history/. There would have also been some fun fact that I’d have looked up on my phone. Technology, including phones, are making it quickly into the study of history and the sharing of history, even phones. People insisting that everyone has their noses in their phones to play around aren’t actively paying attention. Yes, a lot of teens and young adults play around, but a lot use it to enhance their learning experience and to record what they’re looking at. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ Even if all they were doing is texting friends nonsense and none of what they were doing had anything to do with the painting, so what? Maybe they were dragged there by a school or someone and had no interest in the painting. I’m a 29 year old that studied history and anthropology. I have no interest in that painting and wouldn’t want to go there and look at it or even hear about it. Art history doesn’t matter to me. We need to stop expecting kids to find things like art or specific types of music and other topics interesting because we deem it “normal” or “classy.” Take me to an ancient ruin and I’ll go wild with glee. I’ll want to look at everything. Take me to an art gallery and I’ll be playing Final Fantasy on my phone in seconds. Too long, didn't read every word? Sum of it all: Teenagers, adults, and anything with a phone are not the robotic, technology absorbed objects that you've painted them to be within this article.
Maria Gloria
12.16.14
10:38

Honestly, this "article" is embarrassing. https://twitter.com/Iittlelamb/status/541677327923834882

01.29.15
07:46



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