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  • Lucy Thackray

Lucy Thackray: Museums, it’s time to ban phones

Updated: May 4

Do people go to museums and galleries to see the art, or to post their visit on Instagram? Here, freelance journalist Lucy Thackray argues — in 250 words — that camera phones have ruined the gallery-going experience.


“On a recent New York trip, I slipped out of central Manhattan into MoMA, in search of some peace and connection with the art. Instead of cultural heaven, I found myself in social media hell ‒ ducking and diving to avoid visitors zooming in, filming video or taking selfies with the works. It now seems most of us are experiencing MoMA through a six-inch screen. It felt dystopian: was no one here to simply look and feel, without a proof-of-attendance photo?

"Instead of cultural heaven, I found myself in social media hell"

I’d forked out $30 for entry, but the visit quickly felt cheapened. In one interactive installation, retro phones can be picked up to hear poetry recited. But hardly anyone was participating ‒ they were too busy snapping the view from the sidelines. Firstly, I’m baffled by the impulse to capture your individual view of a painting ‒ hardly original content when the same angle is found in seconds on Google images. Secondly, isn't our collective phone obsession putting a barrier between us and the transformative nature of art? My instinct is that it needs to be taken out of our hands: literally and metaphorically.

A crowd point their camera phones at the Mona Lisa
Photo by Mika Baumeister on Unsplash

Perhaps museums could offer discounts to those who conceal devices in a sealed bag, as they do at Secret Cinema, or leave them in lockers. After all, people expect to switch off for other mediums, such as theatre. Another move might be banning photography, but providing official, social-ready pictures to visitors after a visit, with encouragement to share. Museums: the ball is in your court.”

— Lucy Thackray has written for The Sunday Times and The Independent amongst many others, and has been a full-time travel editor and writer for 15 years. She regularly visits the world’s top culture cities on assignment.

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