Monday, May 20, 2024
Smartphone news

we should look at great art with our eyes, not through our phones


Once upon a time, the soundtrack of childhood was a litany of parental injunctions: elbows off the table; don’t eat with your mouth full; don’t use your fork as a shovel … The effect of this salutary advice on those of us who experienced it was twofold: we grew up with impeccable table manners, but vowed never to repeat the sins of our parents. Imagine our dismay when the same stuff came trotting unbidden from our lips once we had children of our own.

The mantra that I found myself repeating to my small son, everywhere from the pick ’n’ mix counter at Sainsbury’s to the National Gallery, was “Look with your eyes, not your fingers”. He is now a burly thirtysomething, well beyond the reach of parental interference. But every time I visit a gallery or a picturesque landscape where a crowd of art- or nature-fanciers jostles to record the scene with their smartphones, I feel like hissing, “Look with your eyes, not your phone!” 

Now English Heritage has dared to suggest that people put away their phones. Visitors to sites such as Walmer Castle and Audley End House will find elegant retro signs inviting them to appreciate the experience with their senses rather than their phones. 

It is rare to find a cultural institution acknowledging that more pleasure can be derived from “simple sensations” than the constant stimulation of a mobile phone. A decade ago, the curator of an Ashmolean Museum exhibition by 
the Chinese-born artist, Xu Bing, urged visitors to check out “multimedia content” accessible via a QR code beside each work. Inevitably, everyone’s eyes were riveted on their phones. The art commanded far less attention.

The universal human instinct in the presence of beauty is to capture the fleeting moment in permanent form. Hence 
the genteel landscape watercolours by amateur Victorian artists; the assiduous copyists of museum masterpieces and, inevitably, the bristling forest of camera phones that makes visiting shows such as the recent sold-out Vermeer exhibition at the Rijksmuseum a hellish experience.

In nature, the hazards of photography are grimly chronicled in the rising numbers of selfie fatalities. In art the effects are less terminal, but the degradation of shared experience is damaging enough in its way. Three cheers, then, for English Heritage and its championing of “simple sensations”.


Paris loses the rat race

When it comes to garbage, the mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, has had a rubbish time. Accused of turning the City of Light into a midden – the hashtag #saccageParis went viral – she has tasked the deputy mayor for public health, Anne Souyris, with setting up a committee “to look into the question of cohabitation with rats”. While the mayor of New York, Eric Adams, recently advertised for an individual with a “general aura of badassery” to address the city’s rat problem, the Parisian municipal authorities are seeking a gentler solution. 

Romanticised in the 2007 animation Ratatouille in which a foodie rat inspires a young chef, the Parisian relationship with rats has long been one of uneasy intimacy. During the Siege of Paris, the menu of restaurant Voisin for Christmas Day 1870 offered roast cat, “flanqué de rats”. A century and a half later, it is the rats, rather than the humans, who seem to be revelling in the “general aura of badassery”.



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