A "no cameras" banner on the exterior of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam (photo courtesy the Rijksmuseum)

A “no cameras” banner on the exterior of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam (photo courtesy the Rijksmuseum)

Earlier this year, museums the world over started banning selfie sticks from their hallowed halls. It was an effort to avoid overcrowding galleries with unwieldy “wands of narcissism,” as they’re often called, and to get visitors to look at art instead of at their own faces in their smartphone screens. Now, Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum is taking the anti-smartphone sentiment one step further. A banner featuring a giant cartoon of a camera with a red X through it hangs on the museum’s façade.

The bold graphic is part of the museum’s new #hierteekenen (or “Start Drawing“) campaign, which encourages visitors to slow down and sketch the works they see in the galleries instead of photographing them and moving on to the next thing. The museum is providing visitors with free sketch paper and pencils, as well as hosting drawing classes on Saturdays. While the institution hasn’t explicitly banned cameras or cell phones, it’s made its stance on visitors’ photo-snapping clear.

“In our busy lives we don’t always realize how beautiful something can be,” Wim Pijbes, the museum’s general director, said in a statement. “We forget how to look really closely. Drawing helps because you see more when you draw.” Research has backed up these claims — a recent study found that people were less likely to remember an artwork in a museum if they photographed it. “This is why the Rijksmuseum wants to help visitors discover and appreciate the beauty of art and history through drawing, so #startdrawing!” the museum wrote. (Nothing like a catchy hashtag to convince people to get off social media.)

The museum reassures the artistically challenged that their amateur sketches aren’t meant to replace cell phone photos. “You don’t even have to be able to draw because this is not about the final result but rather about looking at what you want to draw,” the museum said on its YouTube channel. “When you do this, you begin to see things you never noticed before. You see proportions, details, lines … you get closer to the artist’s secret…. Just think of this as being ‘all about the journey, not the destination.”

The campaign is a creative approach to combatting the plague of the so-called #ArtSelfie, one that gives habitual shutterbugs something to do instead of taking photos. The campaign launched in late October to coincide with the international drawing festival The Big Draw.

Carey Dunne is a Brooklyn-based writer covering arts and culture. Her work has appeared in The Guardian, The Baffler, The Village Voice, and elsewhere.

6 replies on “Rijksmuseum Asks Visitors to Stop Taking Photos and Start Sketching the Art”

  1. I think one can encourage drawing (and YES ban selfie sticks!) without discouraging photography. As an artist, I will spend an entire day at a museum while traveling. The pieces I am most interested in, I will study closely, and part of that process, for me, is taking photos. Generally the most useful photos for me are very close detail shots which show brushwork, detail and texture at a level that available reproductions rarely do. I make sure to photograph every piece that moves me because inevitably, it’s the ones I like the most which are not published in books, postcards, or online (or, if they are, the color balance in those reproductions is very off!) My own photos capture my experience of viewing the work in the flesh- glare, keystoning and all. I reference my library of artwork I have photographed often in my work. Looking at the photos reminds me of what I felt viewing the work in a way that official reproductions do not, and I frequently see new things each time I look at them. I really hope the Rijksmuseum reconsiders shaming people for whom photography is a valuable tool.

    1. That is not what the article is about. It is encouraging drawing opposed to quick “tourist” photo-snapping as documentation.”Nothing like a catchy hashtag to convince people to get off social media.”
      So people who do not have an art background can experience art and notice things that they do not usually. It’s not shaming, it’s teaching. You are an artist, you know these things, many others do not. It’s a good thing, not negative.

  2. I think that they encourage the OPTION of sketching (rather than eliminating camera use altogether) and have rewards like posting it to their social media page, so that visitors will be more inclined to sketch. Also, they could prohibit camera use in CERTAIN galleries / rooms, but not in all. As an option, it is very creative.

  3. I’m a bit surprised by this article. I’ve been to the Rijksmuseum 2 months ago. Wonderful experience, but apparently this program was no longer in existence. Didn’t get to see any people with pens and pads, but a whole lot of tourists with smartphones.

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