I was pleased to read Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett’s criticism of selfie culture – every aspect of life has been gatecrashed by the mobile phone (Art, aura and the search for a perfect selfie, 22 August). However, as John Berger pointed out in Ways of Seeing (indebted to Walter Benjamin), the withering of the aura of a work of art is to be celebrated, because aura shrouds the work of art in a veil of false religiosity.
Many modern artworks, such as those in film and photography (media that Benjamin advocated), are no longer necessarily unique one-offs. The fact that film is reproducible and distributed en masse does not adversely affect our viewing. I saw Once Upon a Time in Hollywood this week knowing that other copies of the film were being watched in cinemas internationally. In other words, the artwork – if you would agree that film can be an artwork – does not require the quality of one-offness to be valued. If a thing is appreciated simply for its uniqueness, which is more or less attributable to many things, not just artworks, there are other factors being overlooked. The gallery provides a space for the viewer to interact with the work on both a physical and mental – conceptual – level. Considerations of cultural contexts and history play a part. Anyone looking at their phone in a gallery shouldn’t have bothered leaving the house; they brought the house with them. My gallery-going advice: switch off the phone, dump the aura and get lost.
• Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett is right – exhibitions by big-name artists are blighted by phone snappers posting their visit on social media. One solution might be more invisible art, like the piece Maurizio Cattelan reported to the police as having been stolen from his car (although he exhibited the incident report) or the empty plinth over which Tom Friedman got a professional witch to cast a malign spell. But I doubt this would work. When the Mona Lisa was stolen from the Louvre in 1911 more people went to look at the empty space on the wall than used to visit the painting itself. Today they would all be photographing it.
• I couldn’t agree more with Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett. During a recent visit to the Musée d’Orsay I was increasingly irritated by the crowds of visitors who weren’t bothering to look at paintings, just positioning themselves for a selfie and moving on to the next blockbuster. I left earlier than I intended because the experience was making me angry, but not without spoiling a number of photos by last-second photo-bombing. Childish, but hugely satisfying.
• I’m with Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett in despairing at crowds in art galleries taking pictures on their phones. My visit to the Van Gogh exhibition at Tate Britain was ruined by the forests of phones being raised aloft to focus on the exhibits. I’m tall, but I still couldn’t see for upper limbs and assorted technology. Some people seemed to be snapping every picture in every room. Perhaps it’s about time that our galleries sold sensibly priced mandatory photo permits, with the income being used for more exhibitions and acquisitions?
• Might a solution be for galleries to offer phone-free sessions for those who want to see the pictures without the distraction of selfies being taken and phones everywhere, and sessions for those taking selfies and using phones? I’d love the option of attending phone-free sessions.
• The phenomenon to which Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett refers is not new. Back in the 60s, the wonderful cartoonist Dave Berg, in Mad magazine, had a tourist returning from his holiday abroad. “How was your vacation,” asks his friend. “I don’t know – I haven’t had my photos developed yet,” came the response.
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