First published in The Warwick Boar (online and print), October 2015.
Recent research findings imply that increased use of digital technology, such as smart devices, has negatively impacted our attention spans and ability to concentrate. Organisations have had to change the way they promote their products and services, to cater for a generation who have adapted to bite-sized, highly-visual, screen-based information.
However, for art organisations, such as museums, theatres and arts galleries, it may be that marketing innovation is no longer sufficient to engage audiences, particularly the younger generation, as the very nature of an arts installation or theatre performance requires concentration, analysis and sustained attention.
Organisations such as the V&A Museum, RSC in Stratford and Birmingham Museums Trust are trialling innovative ways to encourage audiences to digitally interact and engage with theatre, art and historic exhibits and incorporate social media in arts experiences, with the hope that they can attract a dwindling youth audience and potentially increase their audience reach.
My concern is that in an attempt towards sustainability and making the arts accessible to all, traditional art mediums are becoming diluted. How can a piece of art be fully appreciated if it is being viewed through an interactive screen? I believe that viewing art is about appreciating the textures, the depths, composition, colours and materials used in creating the piece. It is about the viewer’s interpretation of the artwork, the emotions and feelings evoked by the piece. If digital technology is used unsympathetically and without an understanding of the audience’s traditional relationship with the art form, then the technology could well form a barrier between the viewer and the art medium, detracting from the experiential element of visiting a gallery.
Similarly, surely the audience loses the ability to understand and become immersed in a piece of theatre if they are making social media updates whilst watching, or worse, experiencing it via a Twitter feed? Recent theatre innovations have encouraged audience members to Tweet about the performance as they watch, or to upload Instagram photos, meaning that some audience members are experiencing sections of the performance through a screen. Maybe these arts organisations should heed the warning signs from media organisations such as the BBC who have long dealt with the repercussions of divided attention generated by “second screening” and now have dedicated teams to finding ways to redirect audience attention back to the original televised content.
In an attempt to make the arts sustainable and accessible through the use of digital innovation, I feel that there is a significant risk to traditional art forms, as theatre becomes television and an art gallery becomes an online photo gallery. Whilst it is arguable that digital innovation is necessary to attract modern audiences, particularly the youth audience, and subsequently secure audiences for the future, it is imperative that it does not detract from the art, nor the ‘real life’ experience. In a 2013 Guardian article, Digital Entrepreneur Rohan Gunatillake echoes this sentiment, impressing the importance of digital innovation in the arts being focused on creative practice.