Art, Accessibility and Selfies

I know, she’s a bit off today, what on earth do these things have to do with each other? A lot. I didn’t grow up with art, except in the days when they still had art classes in public schools. Even then, no-one could ever say what I created there was “art.”

I’ve never understood why people travel and incessantly take pictures, especially of fellow travelers in front of the castle, next to the Eiffel Tower, overlooking Niagara Falls. I’ve always enjoyed seeing whatever I’ve gone to see in my own time, for my own reasons. One thing for which I have no love or patience for is selfies. Get in, grab a photo of yourself in front of whatever everyone wants to see, and dash out. That’s just rude, not only to all the fellow tourists but to the artist himself/herself, dead or alive.

When I was five years old my family traveled to see the World’s Fair in NYC. It was a big deal. All the kids probably remembered Sinclair Dino Land (Sinclair was an old oil and gas company) and Ford had cars on the track and we traveled in a blue convertible with Mom behind the wheel. What I remember clearly to this day was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen.

The exhibitors brought in Michelangelo’s Pieta from the Vatican. I remember going down an escalator into a dark space with light shining on one thing, the incredible statue of Madonna and her dead son. We walked several feet in hushed silence and before we knew it were on an escalator back to light and humanity. Twenty years later I saw it back at it’s home in Rome’s cathedral, before it was shot at and it was surrounded in bulletproof glass for eternity. Either time I saw it, no-one grabbed their cell phone and took a selfie. Of course cell phones were not yet invented or perhaps they would have. It would have been highly inappropriate, in any case.

There’s only one time I’ve been to Florence without seeing the Uffizi Gallery. It was the last time I visited, with my husband, for a brief weekend with my Dad. We were living in Scotland for a few months and only had 36 hours so we pretty much walked, ate and got a few hours sleep before returning to Glasgow.

COVID-19 has made a lot of tourist attractions re-think their operations, having been shut down and now allowing only small groups in if possible. The Uffizi is such a fantastic place. The Cimabue Altarpiece, Michelangelo’s Doni Tondo, the Da Vinci Annunciation, Botticelli’s Birth of Venus and Primavera, so many historic works of art. The Museum has always been popular, with about 12,000 tourists a day, and getting tickets has always been difficult but not impossible. But now I believe that selfie rudeness has made its mark and it’s OK to just run in and out, grab a photo in front of the Birth of Venus and not even look at the art itself.

Premiering this summer is Uffizi Diffusi, which will lend works of art to neighboring towns in Tuscany, often where the artist lived or worked, so that art lovers, and lovers of the Italian countryside, can see it without flocking to Florence. I think it’s a brilliant idea. What could be better than a road trip to a town or two on a nice day, visiting a few works of art and having a nice meal or two? I really hope it works and hope that COVID vaccinations begin to allow world travel once again.

How to get to these far-flung towns? Driving is always an option. I’d suggest an international driving permit, but at least in Italy they drive on the right (as in correct, as we Americans invented the car, not the Brits) side of the road. Tour bus? I hate them, following the lady with the pink umbrella. I’ve only done that once, with a dozen culinary students, and it wasn’t bad at all. We were staying in the Val d’Arno and drove up to San Gimignano one day. A fellow traveler and I thought we could have enough time to see the freschi at Santa Maria Assunta. We ran all the way there and back, and had ten minutes to see the church. If you’ve ever seen the wonderful film Tea With Mussolini, that’s the church they were sandbagging to keep the Nazis from destroying in WWII. I didn’t have much time there, but it was a destination that I did get to see for its sake, not to take a selfie of me in front of a di Bartolo, Lippo Memmi or Ghirlandaio.

It’s about respect. I like to research where I’m going so that I can appreciate it, and take it in hopefully at my leisure. Standing behind twelve people packed in like sardines is not how I like to see the Mona Lisa but that was my only choice. There was much more of interest at the Louvre to make it worthwhile. I do take photos, like the ceiling in St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. I got in trouble for that, even though I didn’t have a flash and I was 300 feet from the subject matter. I’m more likely to capture a beautiful old door, or geraniums on an ancient balcony. Framed in my home are photos of gnarled Concord grape vines in New York State, an old mill in Vermont, and several of islands in the Ionian Sea, of Lefkada, Zakynthos and Korfu.

I am not an artist, no talent in that regard. Not an art historian, either but I do love beauty that others create, and nature. So it you get to Tuscany this summer please check out Uffizi Diffusi and let me know how it is. Ciao, Dee

One response to “Art, Accessibility and Selfies

  1. I have no interest in looking at photos predominated by MY mug; I find it much more enjoyable to stroll through, enjoying the art, and then buy a copy of the guidebook…

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