The Attic (a name which commemorates our first physical location) is, first and foremost, a site for the research students of the School of Museum Studies at the University of Leicester: a virtual community which aims to include all students, be they campus-based and full-time, or distance-learning and overseas. But we welcome contributions from students of museum studies - and allied subject areas - from outside the School and from around the world. Here you will find a lot of serious stuff, like exhibition and research seminar reviews, conference alerts and calls for papers, but there's also some 'fluff'; the things that inspire, distract and keep us going. After all, while we may be dead serious academic types, we're human too.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Friday rant

A recent trip to Nottingham Castle inspired this rant, which I have also blogged about if you can stomach reading a lengthy and medieval-history-obsessed review *grin*

Okay my rant is this - museums and art galleries only selling postcards of their more popular work and neglecting the more obscure works, which, surprise surprise are not possible to find anywhere else. And even worse selling postcards of artworks that are not even in their collections and stocking these postcards and taking up space for artworks which are in their collections and are not even represented on a postcard. Picture the scene - you wander around a collection of artworks, one in particular catches your eye and you think it will be nice to have a small memento of it. Since it is by an obscure artist or of local relevance there is no chance in hell that you will be able to find it in a book or even on the Internet except with extreme patience and looking through potentially reams of images. You would expect (quite rightly) that the museum or art gallery has a role to play here in enabling visitors to have copies of aforesaid obscure artworks because they know that it will drive them mad trying to find a copy anywhere else. Not that a postcard is necessary for successful living but it is good to have interesting and inspiring artworks either at home or in the office (and in the cold stark walls of my office postcards are the only thing that livens it up). However imagine when you get to the shop to find a copy of the painting that so captured your eye only to find postcards of paintings that DO NOT EVEN BELONG TO THE GALLERY masquerading as souvenirs!!! It is not right or proper. Okay okay there are sound commercial reasons for catering for conventional tastes but you can buy pictures of the Pre-Raphelites anywhere and everywhere! It's not everywhere that I am going to be able to get a copy of Judith holding Holofene's head as shown in Nottingham art gallery. The same thing happened in the National Portrait Gallery when I had a good long list of about 6 postcards to find and I could not find any of them because the shelves were filled with postcards of Kate Moss and the Queen! The same Kate Moss and the Queen who appear in countless magazines and newspapers, we can hardly move for pictures of these two and yet the NPG sees fit to produce even more of their likenesses to add to the Kate Moss and Queen mountain we already have. I managed to walk round the entire gallery as well without having to encounter any images of these over-hyped personages too.

So this is a plea to museums and art galleries everywhere. Please can you make postcards of your more obscure works as well as your more popular works. I guess there will be the usual spiel about economics yadda yadda but I am sure I am not the only person who doesn't want pictures of just the famous stuff. And please if museums and galleries have to sell stuff that does not belong in their collections can they hide it in a special section so I don't see it and get annoyed because there is more about the Pre-Raphelites in a museum which has no Pre-Raphelites FROM WHAT I COULD SEE. Maybe I missed them because I was too busy looking for what was unusual and special. Sorry.

12 comments:

Elee said...

AMEN! I completely agree!

If part of the point of museums is to display a variety of artworks from a variety of artists, and to spread the word about these artists, then we could almost argue that museums have a MORAL requirement to stock postcards of their own artworks. This would allow people to continue their connections with the art once they are out of the museum building.

Instead, you almost get the impression from looking at their shops that smaller museums would prefer to have piles of Pre-Raphs on their walls than the art they actually do have.

What's worse, in British museums, is that you can't even take your own low quality photos of the artwork. In the US (and probably lots of other countries) they are happy for you to photograph art, so that you can continue to enjoy your museum experience once you've left. I think this is a very good thing, and UK museums should wake up to it. ESPECIALLY if you can't even get postcards of the art in their shop!

J said...

But as Ceri and I were discussing yesterday, there is a difference between a digital image and that wonderful feeling of having a physical something to share with other people, or just possess yourself.

Elee said...

Oh, of course. But if museums can't get postcards done, they could at least let you take your own. To offer neither is what's really rubbish. I agree that I'd rather have the postcard. If nothing else, the quality would be better.
Time for a campaign, methinks!

mjs76 said...

Economically, it only makes sense to produce postcards in very large quantities. So printing a card which might sell a handful each year is never going to happen. Especially when that would take space away from stock which is guaranteed to shift (irrespective of its cultural value or relevance).

Seems to me that what is needed is Postcard Print-on-Demand. I have no idea whether such technology exists, but maybe enterprising souls at Leicester could develop it.

Presumably any Museum or Gallery would have photos of most of its collection for reference/insurance purposes. So it would just be a question of putting all those images onto a computer in the shop, creating a program to adjust the dimensions automatically to postcard size (and add 'Greetings from xxxx' - maybe not...) then setting up a printer with a stack of blank postcards.

It might cost a bit more than an off-the-shelf postcard - but wouldn't we all pay that bit extra for something like that?

Come on, Museum Studies types. Innovation awards await you!

Ceri said...

Museums only need to print out one batch of the more obscure cards. Postcards rarely 'date' as much as other forms of souvenir so as long as the pile is kept dust free they should last many years. And with museums knowledge of conserving paper and cardboard there really is no excuse! Plus you do find the odd obscure post card e.g. at the Nottingham Museum and Art Gallery you could buy the painting of Amy Robsart, Earl of Leicester's wife, at the bottom of some stairs but not the painting of Judith holding the head of Holofernes. Perhaps there had been a run on Judith that day but it seems to me that museums CAN provide more obscure postcards but just obviously not the ones that I want at the time. So the idea of having a postcard generating machine is rather a good one for those frustrating moments.

Jenny said...

Postcard print on demand...yeah!

Elee said...

I would happily pay more for print on demand. And it probably is a better idea than having thousands of postcards sat around waiting to be bought. It could be that some just don't appeal to anyone!

The only issue would be that the print quality would be quite different from standard postcards, as there would be a different printing process. But you would still have your picture!

Elee said...

Ha ha! It could be like Ikea, where you go round with your little slip of paper, writing down the ones you want. :D

Jenny said...

Or Argos, depending on the quality...*shudders*

Elee said...

At least with Ikea you get to see the actual stuff first. If a gallery became like Argos, I think I may need to re-consider my career choice!

Susan said...

Tate already does this with their 'art on demand' prints:
http://tate.artgroup.com/mall/departmentpage.cfm?store=Tate
I'm thinking postcard-sized ones might be hugely expensive though, depending on the image they probably have to factor in copyright costs, costs for printing machinery/inks, maintenance of machinery etc?

It is crazy that museums have postcards of works that aren't even in their collections. But then again it's probably supply/demand...I'm sure they wouldn't stock them if they didn't sell...

mjs76 said...

Postcard POD wouldn't require any expensive equipment or materials and would offer postcards equivalent in quality to those on the shelf. You can go down Staples tomorrow with 50 quid in your pocket and buy a printer that does photo-quality plus the glossy paper to go in it. Essentially this is no different from printing out your holiday snaps. The most expensive part of the whole set-up is a bog-standard PC.

In this sense, what I'm proposing is the opposite of what the Tate do. They offer an on-line service where you can pick from a limited range of popular images and have it produced in a large, fancy, expensive format which is delivered to you a couple of weeks later. Postcard POD is an in-shop service which lets you pick from a vast range of images - some popular, some obscure - and have it produced in a small, straightforward, cheap format which you can take away with you.

Printer, PC and one-sided postcard paper are all readily and cheaply available. What needs developing is a way to present all the images in an easily searchable database and then just a bit of software to print them out at the right size. I can't see that copyright is a problem because if a museum or gallery doesn't own the copyright on an image, they can't print postcards of it anyway so the point is moot. You just wouldn't put it in the database.

In an ideal world you would have a coin-op doodad so people could do this themselves (like a Photo-Me booth or one of those business card machines) but for the pilot you would probably have the shop assistant actually pressing the button and taking the money.

The only other development I can think of is pre-printing the reverse of the blank postcards with the museum's details (and the centre line and little square for the stamp).

The more I think about this, the more I like it. If I go to Newarke Houses I can buy a postcard of a painting of Daniel Lambert but not a photo of his chair or his gloves or his socks. Imagine being able to go round a museum and have a postcard of anything that catches your eye: any painting, any pottery or weapon or stuffed mongoose. Anything at all.