Sunday, April 24, 2016

No sketching allowed? Really?

I'm beginning to find it more than a little tedious that some sketchers are turning into the drawing equivalent of the cyclists who always run the red lights - as if the rules of the road are for everybody else but not for them.

Why such an extreme statement you may say?

Sketching in Art Galleries and Museums

Well the fact is that
  1. I've lost count of the number of times I've seen mass confusion and diatribes about what a "no sketching' sign actually means.
  2. Yet again somebody has seen fit to be alarmist in a newspaper! (See Oliver Wainwright's article in The Guardian - 'No sketching': V&A signs betray everything the museum stands for).  
  3. Yet again we have seen guerilla sketchers on the warpath.
The article has one of the most sensational summaries I've heard in a long time.
No visit should be complete without tripping over a skinny-jeaned student clutching a sketchbook. This draconian diktat denies visitors their art education
I'll give Oliver Wainwright the benefit of the doubt and assume it was written by some sub-editor whose pay is determined by the traffic he generates for articles.  Draconian diktat indeed!

So at this point it seems relevant to post my sketches done in the Victoria and Albert Museum of
My sketch of Constable's "Boatbuilding near Flatford Mill"
11" x 16", pen and sepia ink and coloured pencils
copyright Katherine Tyrrell
Spinning Around in Gold Hot Pants
from the "Kylie Minogue: Image of a pop star" exhibition
at the Victoria and Albert Museum in 2007
Note: My pen and ink sketch is of Kylie's infamous gold lame hotpants from the Spinning Around Video which revealed rather a lot and achieved iconic status as a result. They have been on display - in their very own perspex box - at the Victoria and Albert Museum. I popped in and did a sketch on a recent visit when I went to see the exhibition of her clothes (amazing!).

The Victoria and Albert Museum Policy on sketching

This is a quotation from the Victoria and Albert Museum website (my underlining)
Photography and sketching
Photography and sketching are permitted throughout most of the Museum, except in our temporary exhibition spaces.
and a policy statement Guidelines for Using the Galleries (which, as it happens, is inaccessible on the V&A's new website - you have to know it exists to find it!) which clearly states
"10. Sketching is not allowed in exhibitions"
So that's about 95+% of the area of the museum and its contents which can be both photographed and sketched! The ONLY areas which are off limits are the temporary exhibitions.

Let me repeat that for all those who scan read and miss the point completely


As the article recognises - but way beyond the point at which the scan readers will have switched off....
The V&A has been quick to point out that sketching is still welcomed in the rest of the museum, and that the rule only applies to temporary exhibitions
The article makes the point that the David Bowie exhibition at the V&A in 2012 was the breaking point when it came to sketching in exhibitions.

Long queues or sketching?

The fact is the Victoria and Albert Museum puts on some blockbusting exhibitions associated with style icons. They have HUGE numbers of people wanting to visit - and generate big queues as a result.

The area given over to temporary exhibitions is not huge and it's not easy to mix people sketching and keeping the flow of people moving through the exhibition to minimise the waits for those queuing to get in.

Liabilities or sketching?

Plus, like any other organisation which admits the public to its premises, the V&A MUST have regard to
  • health and safety issues and
  • the conditions of its insurance for third party liability.
According to Oliver Wainwright tripping over a sketcher is a small price to pay for allowing people to keep sketching!

Speaking as one who has a disability who spends a lot of time trying to avoid falling over I naturally take a very different view! I also take a very dim view of museums and galleries which don't manage risks to the public.

Loans or sketching?

There is also another reason why sketching is sometimes not allowed in temporary exhibitions - and that's because of the conditions applied to loans.  Some owners are very keen to maintain complete control over images of their artwork within the public domain.

The simple fact is that we would see an awful lot less than we do if museums only displayed art and artifacts which were loaned with no conditions.

If the choice is "I get to see the object - and no sketching" - as opposed to "not being able to see the object at all" then I opt for the former!

Compliance with rules on sketching or no sketching?

I have sketched - without a problem (using a rollerball and coloured pencils) in virtually every major gallery in London without any problem at all - but I doubt if the scan readers will note this!

I'd caution people about flouting rules and causing problems for museums and their visitors and the reason why is this.....

In the last ten years I have photographed my way around the Musee d'Orsay in Paris twice. Since my last visit the museum has changed its policy and has now banned photography completely because of the advent of the mobile cameraphone and the way in which this ruins enjoyment of an exhibition or a gallery of artwork for others.

So - you only need people causing a problem and the policy changes..........

More comments on 'no sketching in Museums'

In general I find people often fail to draw a distinction between 'exhibition' and 'museum'.

Three other comments on sketching in museums are:
  • James Gurney - Bans on Sketching in Museums (23 April 2016) - a response to the Oliver Wainwright article - but it fails to make explicit that  the limitation is just confined to temporary exhibitions and that you can still sketch in the rest of the museum.
  • Janice Skivington - No sketching allowed! (12 April 2012) - commenting on the Art Institute of Chicago's ban on sketching in temporary exhibitions
  • Franklin Einspruch - when drawing art is outlawed, only outlaws will draw art - another comment on another temporary exhibition.
Back in February I also wrote about How to draw and sketch in an art gallery or museum #1

Sketching on private property

The other favourite of the guerilla "I'm entitled" sketcher is a whine about not being allowed to sketch on private property - including sketching within retail centres, offices and leisure complexes.

"Anybody can sketch anything, anywhere and anytime" is just not true!

  • There is no god-given right to sketch anywhere you like. 
  • You only have the right to sketch in the public domain - which is NOT the same as the places that the public are allowed access to.
  • Those who represent the owners of private property are also allowed to ask you to leave if you remonstrate saying things such as "I'm an artist and can sketch anything anywhere and anytime".  
The only thing that has changed recently is risk management related to terrorist attacks.

Within the context of terrorist attacks - and the fact that sketches have been found on terrorists - a number of the more high profile properties are naturally taking a very cautious view of ANY sketching.

That's very sad - but quite understandable in the context.

Similar concerns in the past has meant that there has also been a ban (in some countries and some areas) on making images of military installations. Some photographers in the past have only found this out after they landed themselves in prison.

However as one London Urban Sketcher demonstrated when we were sketching at Canary Wharf (very high profile and completely private property) in January, it is possible to be civil to the private security people, show them what you are doing - and allay their concerns - by showing this is not an isolated activity - you have lots of other sketches to show them too! At which point they walked away satisfied (and my fellow sketchers got lots of sketches done).

TIPS: Sketching on private property/land is NOT a right.

Unlike the High Street, shopping centres are invariably commercial enterprises where the land and buildings are in private ownership.

Signs are very often used to remind people that a property is NOT in the public domain e.g. no public right of way.

We might not always like the rules relating to private property but we do need to recognise the owner's rights and obligations in law.

Owners have:
  • The right to decide whether or not people can visit, photograph or sketch within the property.
  • A public liability duty of care to the people visiting their property. Whether or not you can sketch is very often guided by professional advice about crowd management, risk management and assuring the health and safety of visitors. The prevention of terrorist activity - particularly within high profile sites - is also very important. Guidance on activities not allowed may come from the police. Security staff are often used to make sure a place is safe and that people stick to the rules e.g. don’t cause an obstruction or otherwise cause a problem. 
Rather than getting into a dispute about what should be allowed it’s a better idea to look at ways we can live in harmony.

If planning to sketch:
  • Check the website in advance for the policy on photography. This is a good guideline for whether or not sketching might be a problem.
  • Write and ask permission to sketch. If you get permission this means you have a statement in writing to show security.
  • Keep a low profile - a cafĂ© is often a good base for sketching.
  • Avoid large groups of people sketching together.
  • Don’t create obstructions or health and safety hazards.
  • Be respectful of people doing their job.
  • Remember that security people have a job to do and are only telling you what they have been told.

Have your say

So what's your take on sketching and the notion that people should be able to sketch anything, anywhere at any time?

You can comment below - so long as you are civil. :)