A great tension recalled in conversations about the future of art and museum spaces is that between the digital and the analog. What role does multimedia play in the appreciation of objects in the museum or gallery? Do digital image reproductions spoil our experiences with the physical object? Has the quick pace of digital interfaces diminished our attention span to the point of ruining our ability of standing long enough in front of a piece of art to come away with close visual analysis? These are the questions posed by those apprehensive about the potential for digital idioms to access our appreciation and critical analysis of art in the twenty-first century. Their line of reasoning invariably pits the digital as corrupting the analog, the “classic” forms of audience-art interplay. What the wholesale naysayers fail to consider, however, is the way the analog can influence and inform the digital. Indeed, multimedia tools in art spaces can mobilize close visual analysis and make accessible the very repertoires of critical viewing previously deemed impenetrable to the uninitiated.
Enter Sightlines. Started by two students, Ned Whitman (Class of 2015) and Dylan Perese (Class of 2016), working for Harvard Art Museums, Sightlines is a revolutionary phone application aiming to do just this- to leverage multimedia as pedagogical tools in the next generation of art gallery experiences. The phone application (also online at sightlinesapp.com) currently consists of a collection of ten podcasts, featuring Harvard Art Museum’s architect Renzo Piano, Professors Jennifer Roberts and Diana Eck, and The Cooper Gallery’s own Vera Grant and Amy Alemu. By engaging with these audio recordings of enthusiasts participating in close visual observation of extraordinary highlighted objects in the collections, app users are inspired by questions for consideration and ideas presented in the recordings. Custom music composed and performed by Sightlines co-founder Dylan Perese adds another layer of room for analysis.
Amy and Vera had the privilege of analyzing two exquisite objects: Max Pechstein’s stained glass piece, Woman with Animals (c. 1912), and a wooden Kuba Cup from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (c. 1880-1900). Listen to their thoughts and more at sightlinesapp.com! The next generation of art enthusiasts, critics, and scholars will embrace the digital medium as its own idiom of robust visual analysis. Join us in this collaborative new world of lateral– at times synesthetic– creation!