In response to the Guardian article published online about the V&A ban on sketching in its temporary exhibitions, here are some thoughts from an Art student arguing both sides.This article was published in The Courier this year as part of my work for the Culture section.
Every single arts student and schoolchild will remember that going to see museum exhibitions with a sketchpad and your art teacher meant that you would choose to sit cross-legged under some painting or other and while away your time doodling, or finely pencilling in the shadows, depending on your interest. Sketching was so important that it was given over for at least half of the time for the trip, and it is not just now that imitating the original is seen as important. During the Renaissance and in most important art periods, future artists were trained through imitating their grand masters, sometimes going so far as to complete their work for them if the artist was away with patrons. The skill of imitation trains your eye and your hand in following exact lines, learning shapes, and styles. It is a valuable part of an art education, and integral to develop understanding. It is also bizarre to note that it is not copyright that apparently ensued this ban- only congestion in gallery spaces and strict loan agreements for some pieces. This seems unlikely, as the V&A has the most spacious galleries in London arguably, and doodling children have copied even the Mona Lisa, without being sold on for thousands of pounds. The argument here is to preserve art education, not worry about money.
The V&A gains prestige as a museum year by year, and it has already become an authority on fashion in the United Kingdom. It is perfectly reasonable for it to impose more rigorous rules on exhibitions with some of its more valuable pieces, especially since the popularity of its exhibitions grows every time. It would be perfectly reasonable to ask for viewing alone, as many of the artworks are available in print form online and through the V&A shop. Although it may not be quite the same as seeing the original, sketching does not require you to be pressed up against the painting for you to draw it. If any of the pieces would get damaged, it would be the Museum’s responsibility to reimburse the owners of the artwork. This may seem like a boring reason to ban sketching but it is possible to profit off an artwork displayed in the gallery without the author’s permission. With the growth of social media, photography is an even larger problem, however sketching cannot be ignored. It is necessary to protect the valuable artworks that the Museum houses for the public to see, if only to protect its reputation and advance its influence. It is a harsh rule, but with growing numbers of national and international visitors, the museum must do what it can to help everyone have an enjoyable experience. Although sketching’s cultural history means it is hard to let go of the past, it is important to move on with modern viewing techniques if the Museum hopes to get more valuable pieces of art for its public.