The frontier of online exhibition viewing and experience is a very exciting one to me, and one that I hope can turn the reality of going to a museum on its head. The Journey through Monet’s works at the Grand Palais on their website is a joyous step in this direction, animating and engaging the viewer both physically and visually, in a way that the hustle and bustle of an exhibition space cannot. That said, all this technical potential falls short and relies on quite simple tricks and riddles to move through the journey , rather than taking the opportunity to teach us something about Monet.
As children develop, they reinforce what they learn visually through touch. Putting the blue triangle in the blue triangle shaped hole. Knowing that our blanky is soft. Our vocabulary is built on our sensual experiences. My impression of these interactive features such as “pull the hooter to make the train leave” seem to play on this reinforcing power of interactivity. Sure, we are only touching our computers but these actions have an affect on your screen. And it is true that these affects are truly arresting .I just wish that they had taken advantage of these great tools to really go into his paintings.
My first problem with this is that to begin the journey you must spill over Monet’s ink well. Monet was not a writer. He was a painter. Why aren’t we starting with his pallet, paintbrushes and canvas? Although the blooming and leaking animations that bring forth the images of his work are wonderful, they painfully pale in comparison to his work. Rather than putting us in the shoes of Monet, and allowing us to see the progression of one of his works, information that we have access to, we are looking at shimmery reproductions of placemats. So little of the journey really takes a look at the brushstrokes of this painter, instead we are stuck in the contextual location of the paintings as a conceptual starting point for each step of the journey.
Why? Who cares about making the windmill spin? Or the poppies fly? It’s not like Monet had these god-like powers, he just showed up and painted.
Instead,I think we should be allowed to see Monet grappling with his vision, one that left him near blind before his death. As someone who is legally blind( in that without corrective eyewear I can barely see anything beyond shapes and forms in the distance) I have always felt strongly attached to Monet. When I look at his paintings, I see a man desperately struggling to capture a world that is disappearing into blurriness around him. But I also don’t feel pity. When in Normandy, or Rouen or any place he painted, I always take off my glasses and image trying to paint a place I could barely see. But what is left are sublime patches of color, moving and floating around as brightly and close as the faces of the people around me. In Monet the air , the sunlight, the aura of places has a real weight and presence, one that I see floating in Rothko, in Turner and Pisarro and whenever I take off my glasses…
If I were lucky enough to have been on this team of designers, animators , programmers , copy writers and interface designers I would not have entered into the silly details of each painting as a crux for my journey through Monet, I would begin with his palette knife, with mixing colors, I would allow users to try to do this themselves. I would have taken video of the places he has painted today and severely distorted them to look the way they may have looked to him, I would have zoomed in to each brush-stroke and travelled through two or three paintings , rather than thirty. Monet painted the same motifs obsessively, and an animated comparison of them would have been stunning.
My compliments go to the team who created the journey, I can imagine its one of those things that has to please many people and be quite simple, but I can’t wait to see an interactive online experience that takes advantage of the skills of its very talented team to create something that will teach us something true and real about the artist, rather than having us pressing button to make the bells ring in the Cathedral he painted.