Short Story – No Escape

Girl with a Pearl Earring and a Silver Camera. Digital mashup after Johannes Vermeer attributed to Michell Grafton, image source:
Girl with a Pearl Earring and a Silver Camera. Digital mashup after Johannes Vermeer attributed to Michell Grafton. Image Source.

How social media platforms are being used by young people for experiencing art is an issue that most people can have an idea about or be familiar with, as it is being focused on and explored constantly. In this short story, I wanted to take a slightly different approach and reflect on the role of social media on experiencing art not from the point of view of a young individual or a millennial; but from the perspective and experience of a pre-social media generation. I hope you’ll enjoy.

Helen was turning 72 today, and she was alone, like every other day since Jack passed away. She didn’t have many close friends or any children, so when her husband died from a stroke one year ago, the feeling of loneliness became an undeniable, inescapable part of her life.

Jack was a painter, a very talented one – at least in Helen’s eyes. He painted landscapes and portraits, usually of women, but they were imaginary. He didn’t have models like most artists did. He was a loyal man, he surely had some unpleasant qualities, but infidelity wasn’t one of them. She sometimes caught herself imagining who might the women in his portraits be in real life – if they were real, she never asked about it and he didn’t say anything. But she always trusted and counted on him, and when he was gone, it became harder and harder for her to cope with his absence and her loneliness – some days it was just unbearable.

It was on one of those days that she decided to go to this art gallery that recently opened on her street. She enjoyed art, but she wasn’t a regular museum or gallery visitor, she didn’t have the habit to go and explore artworks regularly. But that day she just wanted to get out of the house, do something different to distract herself from her overwhelming thoughts.

After that day, she started going to this gallery once or twice every week, sometimes even more – spending hours in front of the paintings and looking at them like they were masterpieces. At first she didn’t understand how this happened, as she didn’t have this urge to visit a gallery before and there wasn’t anything special about this place. But then after a while she realized, she somehow felt closer to Jack while she was there, closer to his world. She could feel and remember his presence more, surrounded by all these paintings. This small gallery became her shelter in a sense, her best way to connect with Jack. She had lost him, but finally found a way to nurture her memory of him.

So on her 72nd birthday, Helen decided to go to the gallery again. Jack wasn’t a particularly romantic man, but he never forgot her birthdays and always gave her a small present, sometimes a painting, even though they were getting old this habit of his always continued. So on this day, she wanted to go to the gallery, to somehow feel like she was celebrating her birthday with him, even though she knew this would never happen again.

There was something extraordinary going on in the gallery that day. Well, maybe it wasn’t that extraordinary – people were constantly taking ‘selfies’ , a term that Helen learned recently, in front of the artworks. On her regular visits to the gallery Helen noticed this was happening quite often – visitors, especially young people, taking selfies or photos of the artworks, and spending most of the time looking at their smartphones, rather than focusing on and observing the works. As an old woman, she thought this was the new ‘trend’, one that she wasn’t able to understand and thought was quite meaningless and distracting, but who was she to judge?

On this particular day, this trend seemed at its peak to Helen. Almost everyone and especially youngsters were taking selfies, some were using long sticks attached to their phones to take them – Helen hadn’t seen one of those before. They were rushing around, stopping in front of the paintings and changing the position and angle of their phones constantly. Helen couldn’t understand what exactly was going on and started feeling very overwhelmed – then she saw the poster on the wall. The poster said it was the “#GallerySelfie” week, the visitors were encouraged to take a selfie in front of the artworks and post it on ‘Instagram’ with the ‘hashtag’ #GallerySelfie and the gallery ‘tagged’ in it. Then the best 3 selfies chosen by the curator and the director of the gallery would be featured there, as artworks themselves.

Helen didn’t know what most of the terms in this poster meant, but she knew that her idea for her birthday was ruined. Not being able to focus on any work or to feel that calming atmosphere and connection with Jack, she left the gallery perplexed.

She didn’t go there the next week, or the week after that. She felt like after her last visit on her birthday, being in the middle of all the rush and chaos, her vision of this gallery as some sort of haven, as an imaginary link between herself and her beloved Jack, was damaged. She didn’t know why this has affected her so much as she used to notice this behaviour on most of her visits, but perhaps seeing too much of it at once made her feel this distanced towards it.

One day, after two weeks passed by without her visits, she started feeling very suffocated in the house, alone with her thoughts. She wasn’t sure what to do, she got quite used to going to the gallery when she felt this way in the past few months. So she decided to go again, hoping the atmosphere wouldn’t be like the one in her last visit.

Upon entering the main space in the gallery, Helen noticed it was much calmer and she felt pleased. Walking around the space slowly, she started feeling her bond with this place becoming strong again, allowing her to feel a connection to Jack once more.

Suddenly, she came across the section of the room reserved for the 3 selfies – the winners of the #GallerySelfie week. Getting curious, she started looking at them carefully. In the first one, a man in his thirties was doing the exact surprised facial expression as the portrait behind him. In the second selfie, a mum and her little son were hugging each other, she wasn’t sure of the work behind them. In the final one, two teenage girls were looking to each other and laughing in front of a beach landscape painting, and there were people in the background, as the frame of this one was much larger compared to the other two. While taking a closer look to all of them, she needed to put on her glasses to be sure of what she was seeing in the final selfie – she was there too in the background, looking around with her puzzled expression.

The contrast between her confused image in the background and the laughing young girls was so strong that Helen couldn’t take her eyes off of the photo. She stood in front of it for a long time, looking at it over and over again- and then took her old fashioned phone off her pocket, and decided to take her first selfie.

Interview with Curator Mine Kaplangı on Art and Social Media


How many art museums or galleries are there today, that don’t have an active Facebook or Twitter page? What about the number of institutions that continue to have inflexible rules when it comes to photography in their spaces? How many of us, especially as millennials, didn’t take a #MuseumSelfie to post on Instagram yet? Even if we don’t know the exact numbers, we can easily guess the answers to these questions. Social media is becoming or already became an indispensable element in the world of art; affecting both how the institutions represent themselves and reach people, and how we experience and perceive art and these institutions; which brings many more interesting questions to the table.

In my interview with Mine Kaplangı, an art curator, artist representative and editor based in Istanbul, I wanted to tackle this growing, intriguing relationship and the questions it raises further. Mine, who is currently working on curating the yearly program of BLOK art space, a well-known contemporary art space in Istanbul, gave many thought-provoking answers to my questions. I hope you’ll enjoy!



Q: As you know, the increasing presence and activity of art institutions on social media platforms is discussed greatly in art scenes all over the world these days. What are your personal opinions on this ongoing orientation and its effects and outcomes for the institutions?

A: As art institutions increase their social media presence it becomes very important to make the distinction between using these platforms for promotion and education. The increasing number of followers of art museums or galleries on social media show that people are interested in getting the latest developments in the art world this way, so using these platforms not only for promotion but also for education, giving information and making announcements becomes a crucial point. With these platforms, we – as a community linked by art – have new and bigger responsibilities for our followers, artists and visitors. Now museums and galleries have more opportunities to express themselves not only in local and physical spaces, but also in digital and global ones. By using these platforms being in connection with the global art market becomes much easier, which makes using them efficiently even more important.

Q: What about its impact on their audience and visitors? Do you think especially millennials being the ‘digital natives’, have started to perceive art institutions as more approachable, interesting or entertaining as a result of the social media effect?

A: With the increasing presence of art on social media, in a sense ‘popular’ shapes it’s way also in the art world. Social media platforms create the new trends; people turn to them for the answers of questions like “What is in? What is popular?”. Maybe someone with a thousand followers really liked a sculpture because of its colour, posted it online, suddenly there is a “popular” artwork on social media. Many people start following the artist, the gallery and so on.

Of course sharing and compressing all experiences into one timeline creates a personal pleasure for young generation. Entertainment is surely part of these platforms but this is how this new generation live now, in an age where the discussion “entertainment versus education” has ended and now entertainment is the first rule for the education, especially when it comes to art. So before they experience the actual exhibition, they check online, learn more about the trends, follow the artists they like, share the works they feel closer and share their selfies from their experiences. Also since the 90s there are many examples of digital artworks focused on social media platforms, criticising or exploring either way we are trying to learn more about the new ethical rules of these big questions through art as well. These platforms and what kind of standards they bring to our perception of art will be discussed by all of us for years I believe, until we have other platforms.

Q: In BLOK art space, what is your standpoint to this relationship as an art gallery? You have active Instagram, Facebook and Twitter pages, how do you use them strategically to reach your audience?

 A: I think in this new era we are living in; this is not a choice but a need. We have no choice but to use social media platforms to reach a wider crowd. This is also a part of a business plan, since we are all connected as a large art system each one of us should offer certain information, images etcetera to get people’s attention.

This is our 3rd year in the social media field. Facebook is more of an event page for us, we almost use our profile page like if it’s our website. We use Twitter to follow local and global art news and also as a news board for our followers. We use Instagram as a timeline, almost like a visual archive. With our Instagram posts, we try to be very careful with posting all information both in Turkish and English as half of our followers are from foreign countries. One of our artists’ got an invitation to a seminar in London because of our Instagram post about her installation last year. We believe that creating these kinds of new links and connections are very valuable for the art world.

 Q: What are your opinions on the current trend of taking photographs and/or selfies in art exhibitions and sharing them on social media, especially by millennials? Do you support it and think that it should be allowed, for marketing purposes for instance? Or do you think that it distracts the visitors from the actual artworks thus it should be discouraged?

 A: This is a very on point argument at the moment for the contemporary art world and I believe this phenomenon has both its effective and contradictory sides. On one side these tools are almost becoming a form art by themselves. For instance, take the colour pallet you can choose from for your Instagram photo of an artwork. Not only people put their own aesthetic perspectives into this action but also Instagram filters become their personal choices for the last look! In addition, we can share everything easily and quickly, thus we also become like a newsletter for the art world. You follow your friend, your friend shares an artwork, you get curious, click on the artwork, and bam! You are already in that gallery’s or museum’s page. That’s indeed a very effective way of spreading the word.

On the other hand, personally I find it very difficult not to get disturbed by the fact that we are starting to feel like we need to record everything to remember. But I believe this is more related with our generation’s zeitgeist not exclusively with the art world. Every day we create another profile on social media platforms, we use different apps to create diverse types of realities. So, in this fast-track movement how we are going to find our ways? Do we have a moment to just breathe and be present, or should we just evolve with these new opportunities and discover the world of art through digital platforms?

Q: At BLOK art space, did your rules for photography change as a result of this trend?

A: Our rules didn’t change in a significant way, as we have always allowed our visitors to take photographs in our exhibitions. We only ask them not to use flash when taking photographs as it may damage some artworks or objects. If there is a certain event, performance or a screening of course we expect from our visitors to respect the works. Since our space is not very large, when it’s dark even the dimmed light from a single phone can be pretty disturbing for the viewing experience.

Q: How do you see the future of this expanding relationship between art institutions and social media? Do you think a continually growing number of institutions will become more embracing of social media platforms and enhance their presence and activity on those platforms, as it seems to be the case?

A: The future of digital technologies and how us, as the art community, will continue to use them is unknown yet very exciting! We tend to use these platforms to create a community for sharing knowledge, ideas and information. We do learn and get inspired from each other so why not continue to use these platforms to connect with one another? I believe that future will bring new ways of perceiving and sharing art, creating new discussions on topics such as “What is art?” and “Who is an artist?”. We will all experience and learn together.

Q: What about from the perspective of the audience and visitors? In your opinion will they continue to increasingly engage with art through social media, by sharing their experience of art on those platforms, or at one point this trend will reach its limit and they will start becoming weary of it?

 A: I don’t think this is a trend that one will be tired of. I just think we are going to be very tired because of carrying those smartphones and holding them up straight to get photos with a perfect angle, but probably technologies will find a way to solve these problems soon. I believe our cyborg generation will never leave their digital media platforms, we will create more platforms, maybe alternative ones with more interactive or user-friendly options. But at the end our Internet age just created a new digital world that represents our physical world. So why not learn how to represent it correctly or efficiently?

Check out BLOK art space’s official website here, as well as their pages on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.