Should You Take Photos Of Art You Like?

Quick Background

I’m here in Santa Fe, New Mexico, a hub for artists and galleries. I’ve likely been to over 20 galleries the past 2 days and it’s been a blast to explore.

When entering galleries, seeing “No Photography Allowed” signs is quite common, typically for copyright reasons. It got me thinking though, should you take photos of art you like, even if it is allowed?

To start, let’s cover some assumptions.

What’s the point of taking a photo?

I take photos to capture moments in time.

Sometimes it’s to capture something I find beautiful like a sunset in the mountains. Sometimes it’s to save a memory like great conversation over dinner. Sometimes it’s just to create a record of a place that I visited.

I take photos for my future self.

Oftentimes the photos I take are meaningless and are better deleted, but sometimes photos make the future better when I have the ability to relive that experience.

This inevitably gets into a discussion of memories, which I’ll tackle more in other posts. But, for this discussion, I think reliving memories is something valuable. Our brains aren’t computers, able to hold information indefinitely without modification. Instead, our memories change over time. Maybe we haven’t thought about that moment in high school where we were sitting at the lunch table playing Monopoly yelling at each other in years. We forget little details, but photos can help us. They can relight details and take us back to the moment.

So, the point of a photo here would be to help your future self remember how you feel in this present moment.

But, that said, living through an experience in person is better than re-living it via a photo.

Let’s say a photo retains about 20% of the information of an experience. You get the memory trigger, you get a reminder about the visuals, but you’re not there, it’s not the same. 20% is better than maybe 5%, which you might get without the visual cue, but it’s nowhere near 100% – being there immersed in the experience.

What’s the point of a piece of art?

The answer may be different for you than me, so I’ll just share my own perspective. For me, some art transports you to a location. Some art evokes emotions, feelings, or questions.

Art is an expression of nature and nature is beautiful.

It’s less about the particular lines on the canvas and more about what those lines do for you.

Browsing art is an experience.

The point of a piece of art then is to have the experience of looking at it, seeing the details, the brushstrokes, the colors, to be transported to the location, or to feel the emotions that it brings you.


Here’s my hypothesis:

Taking a photo of a piece of artwork that evokes emotions devalues the future experience.

It reminds me of something a friend said, that not taking a photo of a place encourages you to revisit that experience.

The photos I took (mostly of the gallery fronts and the vibe of the street) will still remind me of the full memory of walking around from gallery to gallery and that I had positive feelings browsing some art. But, because I don’t have photos of the pieces I like, I’m not giving myself the ability to modify and relive my memory of how I felt about it. It makes the art more valuable because the experience has constraints. The experience is unique to the location. It encourages me to go back in person and have the experience again.

I’m sacrificing the individual pieces of art for the full experience.

Now here’s a thought: I’d actually argue that remembering the individual pieces of art I like isn’t particularly useful. Here’s why: it’s only useful in the case where I want to purchase or find art that I like in the future. Having those photos means I could identify the particular style that I like, but that’s about it. A photo is not able to capture the details of a piece of art. A photo doesn’t capture the scale of a piece of art. Those are part of the experience of being there in person.

Maybe I’m out in outer space, but I typically take photos of everything, so I wanted to play with the perspective of not taking photos of the art I enjoyed 🙂

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *