Taking pictures in art galleries.

Censuring people doesn’t make them stop doing something wrong. Sometimes it only makes them get more sly about doing something wrong. Authority figures should give praise for doing good rather than censuring people for doing bad. Every child psychology book teaches this – if you want a behavior to continue, give it attention and energy. So if you want bad to continue, call attention to it. If you want it to go away, ignore it.

When I was in middle school, my Mom was the substitute teacher in my classroom once. This wasn’t the smartest of things to have the Mom in the classroom with the student, but there you go. Everyone was talking at one point, except me. I knew better. It is my Mom, after all. If they got punished, I’d get punished more at home. This is a basic rule.

She assigned writing sentences to everybody as punishment. It seems like a strange punishment, but it was common at least when I was growing up. It seems like it will make students equate writing with punishment, when writing can be very healing. Certainly, writing the same sentence over and over – some inane mantra about how they resolve to not do whatever infraction again, isn’t healing. It is silly. But I digress.

Everybody had to write the sentences, including me. I wasn’t guilty. But I had to do it anyway, in part so my Mom wouldn’t get accused of favoritism. It wasn’t fair. It wasn’t right. And it made me want to do something wrong to make up for it. I needed to deserve to be punished. I got the pain of punishment, I should get the thrill of the crime. I don’t remember what I did to make up for it. I just remember the lesson.

One year when I was in college I was headed out for spring break. It was early in the morning. I was speeding. The speedometer registers up to 140. This makes no sense because there is no place in America where you can legally go over 70. So I wanted to find out what 100 miles an hour felt like. I got up to 95 and realized that was way too fast for me. I started to ease back down and passed a cop. He caught me fair and square. I had to go to jail and post bail on myself. There was a court date later so I could pay the ticket. It wasn’t just a simple thing.

Now, while I admit that I was breaking a law, I wasn’t breaking the one I normally broke while I drove at that time in my life. I had gotten in the habit of getting stoned all the time. Getting stoned all the time meant that I was stoned when I drove. Sometimes that meant getting stoned while I drove. This boggles my mind now that I thought this was a good idea. But this time I was stone cold sober. When I was stoned I was very careful about not breaking any other laws. It is a good idea that if you are breaking one law, don’t break another one because chances are you will get caught for one and then the other one will go along for the ride. If only the people who star on “Cops” would learn this truth.

So I came back from spring break early and spent it with a friend who was still on campus. We got stoned a lot. I got out my need for speed by playing driving games in the student center on an upright console. And I remembered the “lesson” I learned when I was in middle school.

A few years ago I went to an art gallery and got thoroughly chastised by the guard for taking a picture in the gallery. Of the floor. The floor, for goodness sakes. I hadn’t planned on taking pictures of the art. I understand about copyright and the desire of the artist to protect her intellectual property. The gift shop wants to make money on the catalog as well. But the floor isn’t art. It is cool looking, and it looked like it would be good to use as a digital wallpaper on my phone. But the guard lost her mind. I was thoroughly chastised.

And all the old memories and twisted training came back. If I’m going to be censured for something, I’d better be censured for actually doing something worth being censured over. Do the crime, do the time, right? But I’m not about doing the time without doing the crime.

So I got sly. I took pictures. I figured out how to take pictures using my phone in a way that doesn’t look like I’m taking pictures. First step – turn off the sound to the phone so it doesn’t make the annoyingly loud “shutter release” sound that is pointless on a camera phone anyway. There is no shutter to release because it is all digital. Then, look like you are texting. Don’t hold the phone up to your eye. Angles are important here. The zoom feature helps. Having a cohort to look out for guards and/or provide a human shield helps too.

I’m glad I did. I have later bought the catalog for the exhibit, once it went on sale. I mean really, there is no reason a catalog should cost the same as a college textbook. But then lo and behold, the piece that I really really liked wasn’t in the catalog. Some of the pieces I liked were. But the whole exhibit wasn’t present. So if I’d not taken the pictures, it would be gone.

There was one exhibition I liked that I went to in Boone, NC where the exhibit was site specific. It existed only then and there. It was created there for that space. The gallery has a photographic record of the construction of the exhibit, but not it, itself. It is gone. This is a shame, because it was really beautiful and it isn’t fair that people who weren’t able to go to this tiny art gallery in the middle of nowhere should be denied the beauty of this piece. Art is meant to be seen.

So, yes, I take pictures in art galleries. And I’m going to do it again.