Early in my career, I felt it was a young copywriters’ obligation to take the occasional two- and three-hour lunch outside the agency walls. I’d brown bag a lunch, grab a pad and pen, and head for Central Park, or over by the UN overlooking the East River, the steps of St. Patrick’s. And it wasn’t unheard of to occasionally catch a movie (relevant to whatever I was working on, of course). But in those pre-smart phone days when you really could disconnect from everyone and let your mind wander, my favorite place to go was MoMA. The ad agency was a sponsor of the museum and employees got in free just by waving their I.D. I’d find a quiet room, sit amongst the artwork, and who knows what. Think. Scribble. Look for ideas. Just take it in.
As of today, thanks to Google, I am no longer limited to workday visits to museums during lunch, nor am I confined to NYC museums. I just saw this article about the Google Art Project in Bloomberg. From Versaille to Berlin, from The Met to The Hermitage, 17 world class museums are as easy to access as Outlook. During your next break at work, I strongly recommend the former.
Since I’m writing this during lunch, I return to my youthful habit and take a stroll through Google Art Project. I start of course at MoMA. The navigation isn’t as smooth as I would hope, a bit more helmet-cam than one associates with a museum experience. I get a little frustrated when I can’t line up a Cezanne that simulates eye level. The hallways are empty, there’s no hum of museum chatter from other visitors. It’s ghostlike and sterile. So like hitting fast forward on an iPod, I flip over to the National Gallery. Then to Museo Reina Sofia. In the last two minutes, I’ve just been in three fabulous museums, and I realize like most things digital, this is definitely a quantity over quality play. The idea of 17 museums on one site sounds pretty cool, and if it gets someone to actually turn off their computer and visit a museum, that’s a win. But in the end, without starting a CD vs vinyl or Kindle vs. book argument, Art Project as a museum experience is cool but clunky. You definitely don’t have an authentic experience; the people you bump into, the quiet conversations, the eavesdropping on a guided tour are all missing, getting thisclose to a masterpiece. That’s art as emotion. Art Project is art as information, a check the box, onto the next one global art tour. For sure, I’m not spending time on Art Project looking for inspiration, and I’m sure that’s not even the point. The point is, these fabulous museums are here. The masterpieces are here. On my desktop, ready to be clicked. And on a snowy day in New York City when I’m 38 floors above a frozen city, I can check out a Picasso without stepping outside. Okay, I’m bookmarking this.