I was recently informed that sketching from works in ticketed exhibitions at the Philadelphia Museum of Art is strictly prohibited. This means that artworks on loan cannot be fully absorbed by artists, and that artists may not use these works as educational tools for their craft.
The practice of learning directly from master works is slowly being threatened by convoluted copyright issues and backwards priorities.
Members of the Board, Museum Administration, and Education Departments:
I recently visited your museum to see the "Cezanne and Beyond" exhibition. I was drawn to see this exhibition at your museum by the emphasis on how Cezanne has influenced artists throughout recent history, and the promise of many (18) artists having pieces in the show. Some of these pieces are on loan from very fine artistic institutions, and some are on loan from artists' personal collections. Some still are on loan from private collections. This means, that for many of these pieces, this was possibly my one and only chance to see them and be directly influenced by them.
As a trained artist and professional illustrator, I interact most fluently with art by sketching. I use this as a tool to absorb the works being shown to me. This is a method that has been used by artists throughout history in order to better learn from the masters that came before us. Cezanne used sketching from old masters as a learning technique himself, and I would argue that many of the artists featured in your exhibition drew from Cezanne's works. Because of the nature of such celebrated artist works, I would be hard-pressed to argue that artists such as Ellsworth Kelly, Paul Judd, and others did not work directly from pieces while viewing them in museums such as the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
I was informed, while sketching, that this practice is not allowed in your ticketed exhibitions. When I asked why I was not permitted to draw in the exhibition, I was told it was due to copyrights, and to prevent the unauthorized reproduction of works on loan. While this might be understandable in terms of not being allowed to photograph works, the restriction on sketching is hard for me to quite wrap my head around.
I will argue, that if the Museums loaning the works are truly concerned that I might be able to convincingly reproduce a masterwork oil painting with a Bic #2 pencil in a sketchbook that follows the museums guidelines, that they are delluded and sorely mistaken. The claim is bogus, and unfounded, not too mention a little crazy. There are already ample restrictions about what kinds of materials are allowed in the Museum through general admission, as I understand it. Pencils are preferred, pens are not allowed.
When confronted on this issue, the attendant at the information desk was courteous and understanding. She offered to contact the manager for me in order that I might understand this policy that had left me feeling alienated and angry. The manager, who never introduced himself, explained to me that this policy was in place to keep traffic in the gallery moving. I informed him that I had been told already that it was deeper than that, and this was a concern for the rights-holders of the artworks on loan. He assured me that that was correct.
Through his explanation, I was made to understand that the Museum enters into contracts with loaners that state that reproduction of the artworks will be fully restricted, including photography, sketching, and any other form of reproduction of the works. I find this interesting, for as far as I know I was not reproducing the work in question. I was drawing from it, forming my own conclusions about it, and doing precisely what the exhibition set out to educate the public on. I was learning from, and being influenced by, Cezanne and the other artists represented in the gallery.
Also, the manager pointed out that this no-sketching policy was clearly printed "all over" the website and even on the backs of the tickets for the show. Unfortuneately for him, this is not true. The back of the ticket clearly states that no photography will be allowed. The website has one page of policies. I, however, do not want clearer statements about this policy, although that would be helpful. I want this policy struck from the Museum's rule book.
I understand that the Museum had to enter into a contractual agreement not to allow sketching due to these works being on loan. I am shocked to learn that other museums don't want these works to be fully influential on their public and audiences. I am surprised, also, that negotiations have not been made to allow sketching of these works in the special exhibitions. What avenues have the Philadelphia Museum of Art taken in order to be fully accommodating to artists who want to learn from these works of art?
You will have lost my patronage of your museum until this policy is changed. You will not get any of my support for anything that you should choose to do, and I will make my feelings on this issue known through as many channels as are available to me. I realize that this is not all on the shoulders of your institution. This is a systemic problem, as made obvious by the restrictions in the contractual agreements between lender and borrower. It would seem that museums the world over wish to restrict the influence of artwork to their own institutions.
In the future, please keep in mind how these rules restrict the opportunity of art to act fully as influence for younger generations of artists.