If you’ve studied even a little bit of art, you’re likely familiar with one of Rembrandt’s most iconic and lasting works, commonly known as The Night Watch. Like many pieces from the 17th century Dutch Baroque era, the paining rewards viewers with multiple layers of meaning and context on top of its characteristically impeccable use of chiaroscuro.
Then again, once you’ve taken a look at a paining in a museum, you’ve sort of got the idea, right? That seems to be the impression this group of young tourists at Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum have come away with, as shown in the photo below, via Dutch journalist Gijsbert van der Wal.
— Gijsbert van der Wal (@wijdopenogen) November 27, 2014
You may have seen this shot being shared into your newsfeed recently, or you will soon, as it’s being interpreted as the perfect illustration of why kids these days are incapable of appreciating this that and the other thing, and further proof that phones are corroding our ability to think and notice the world around us. Which, maybe, that certainly could be the case.
Kids these days only care about socializing and making out, unlike the old days, where all kids loved corny paint men pic.twitter.com/VPsGIXILh5
— Luke O’Neil (@lukeoneil47) December 3, 2014
But, on the other hand, what is a painting besides a sort of proto smart phone, a means of conveying information and imagery to the beholder?
You can be sure that there were grumbling touts who considered Rembrandt and his cohorts dawdling idlers in his day. A serious person doesn’t waste their time dreaming of paintings. A serious person tills the land and goes to war, and cobbles those big ass wooden shoes together for some reason.
Can we even blame the kids depicted here for being more interested in their phones than a painting anyway? What do you think preoccupied the thoughts of 17th century teenagers? Besides dying at like 36 I mean, and all of the horrible smells. The primary driving factor of adolescents since the invention of adolescents has been the lives of their peers: what they’re doing, who they’re talking to, and, most importantly, how to use that information to get them to push their face up against your face. A painting isn’t going to get you a date. Look at that young girl in the painting there. She doesn’t even look like she’s interested in what’s going on and she’s in the damn thing.
That aside, a phone, for all of its potential for distracting us, contains an infinite expanse of information compared to one single work of art. A phone contains all of the works of art ever. And who’s to say these kids aren’t diligently looking up the historic context of the piece? What? It could happen.
I’m reminded of this poem that has stuck with me for years by an old professor of mine:
I read the labels stuck on every cage the way
people at museums do, art being less interesting
Information is more interesting than art. It always has been, and it always will be. These kids aren’t dumb and disinterested, they’re simple looking for a different type of information.