Monetization: Digital Entertainment or Visual Analysis

The raging world-wide pandemic has revealed many realities but key among them is the fragility of the market.  The market must be fed everyday or it falls apart.

Museums though in essence are not “of the market” they must function as if they were, or fail.  With nothing to sell per se, museums, like newspapers or books, must find ways to “monetize,” or make relevant all over again, their programs.

This is a doubly-tough agenda to market, or sell, something from a public trust.  More public library than commercial store, all museums struggle to survive financially.  Museums originated and only survived from the beginning propped up with philanthropic largesse.

The digital revolution is something of a blessing and a curse for museums.

Two recent articles caught my attention, museums using purchased digital technologies to reach their audiences when their audiences could not come to the museum itself.

The articles came from the good old New York Times with the headline “Will Art Lovers Open Their Wallets for Online Tours?“ and the surprising Wall Street Journal with “Glitch in the Museum Matrix.”

First, the ridiculous.  WSJ reported on “Immersive Van Gogh” a digital “high-tech video installation.”  50 digital projectors showed animated images of Van Gogh’s paintings with “New Age-style music.”  The WSJ writer claimed he couldn’t “think of a better way to heighten your understanding of what is widely thought of as Van Gogh’s greatest painting,” Starry Night.

“Immersive Van Gogh” installation view, courtesy of vangoghexhibit.ca website. 

Massimiliano Siccardi and Luca Longobardi, who created this installation, confused “content” with “form.”  Thinking their blinking light and music show became “elevated” with the association of cultural prestige of Van Gogh paintings they presumed to be doing something significant in interpretation.  An electronic light show will be judged, like oil paintings, on its form which is its content.  Their’s is a spectacle masquerading as culture.  As art museum curators preach and teach, form is the content.  Simply, it is a video; not a painting.  Intrinsic and extrinsic will meet in the object itself, but calling it by any other name will not deem it worthy of our attention.  It’s why some aesthetes complain that any interpretation—including words, which you must use—are extraneous to the work of art.

There is only one way to experience an oil painting.  In front of it, lovingly questioning what you see.  Why these colors? These marks?  What story is trying to be conveyed?  Why this way, and not some other?  What was going on in the maker’s life that made the work take this form?  After that, and because “reading culture” is a thinking pursuit, read an essay or call a curator.

However, and gloriously, the NYT cited The National Gallery in London and I found it intriguing because they were offering a tour by the curator of an artist I’m interested in Artemisia Gentileschi.

National Gallery of London curator Letizia Treves introducing Baroque painter Artemisia Gentileschi, screenshot.

So, I bought a ticket, £8, and watched a thirty-minute tour of the London exhibition led online by the National Gallery curator Letizia Treves.  Painting by painting, Treves walked us through the spacious galleries telling the stories of the artist’s life, the Baroque period of a woman trying to make a living painting, Artemisia’s creative appropriation of Caravagist chiaroscuro, her specifically woman’s point of view to her subjects, and Treves’s oft-repeated line by the artist herself, “let me show you what a woman can do!”  Superb introduction to an amazingly versatile artist.  The tour was in two parts. First, Treves walked us through every key painting.  Then, Treves went back for a closer look at the details of a select few works.  My partner and I enjoyed watching this international documentary tremendously from the comfort of our southern Illinois home.

The very famous, and deservedly so, painting: Artemisia Gentileschi, Judith Beheading Holofernes (1620–1621). Collection of the Uffizi Galleries, Florence, Italy.  Screenshot.

A Closer Look, another celebrated masterpiece by Artemisia Gentileschi, Susannah and the Elders, 1610, in the Schloss Weißenstein collection, in Pommersfelden, Germany. Screenshot.  

If you review the digital programs Cedarhurst has been creating since March—actually even well before that, we just upped the quantities this spring—you will find that we know what content is relevant to our mission, and how to share it in the so-called digital realm to the benefit of our communities.

As an art museum curator who remains enthralled with visual analysis of the static (non-moving, non-digital) painting, be it Ancient, Medieval, Renaissance, Neoclassical, Romanticism, Modern, or Postmodern, I often wonder who today is curious about the latent powers of images that don’t move.

Movie directors like John Ford or Stephen Spielberg or Ava DuVernay fully understand that the cinematic freeze frame—the single photograph on which the filmic narrative is constructed—will always remain tied to the aesthetic and sociological connotations of historic oil paintings.  Visual analysis began there—with historic oil paintings, from any era—and will remain rich resources to be plumbed fresh by every new generation.

Today, for Cedarhurst, it’s not about creating the next new digital entertainment thing.  It’s just a question of asking for your philanthropic support.  Support Cedarhurst, make a small donation today, join us as we continue on our quest to make available Cedarhurst treasures from our joint, shared, cultural heritages.