Focus vs. Distraction addressed the current popular obsession with attention and the coveted commodity of focus. Almost daily, a new article, book, or opinion piece laments the loss of focus and the distracting onslaught of digitally delivered and enhanced information. Rather than fall in with the mourners, we examine this issue obliquely from the various perspectives of four speakers—an artist, an educator, a neuroscientist, and an illusionist—as well as our salon audience.
Museums can be experienced both with laser focus on a limited number of works, or as a rabbit holes down which one can wander, stray, and get lost. Today, museum visitors may enter the gallery space at both ends of the spectrum—into galleries too saturated with visitors to permit focus, or galleries that still allow pause, contemplation, concentration, or escape. During the Q&A portion of the salon, an interesting tension arose between the perceived need to allow museum-goers to access networks on their own terms, and the desire to add interpretive information whenever possible.
Watch the videos from the salon and explore some of these questions: Are we experiencing a crisis in our ability to focus, or just an evolution of the natural skill sets required for the contemporary world? Must focus be jump-started from the outside in the contemporary museum experience? How can the viewer retain a sense of agency and freedom in their approach to a work of art?
The salon took place on December 11th, 2012.
Vija Celmins is a Latvian-born American painter, sculptor, object-maker, and draughtswoman. Vija is most renowned for her photorealistic depictions of nature. Armed with a nuanced palette of blacks and grays, Vija renders these limitless spaces—seascapes, night skies, and the barren desert floor—with an uncanny accuracy, working for months on a single image.
Wendy Woon is Deputy Director of Education at The Museum of Modern Art. Wendy oversees all areas of education at MoMA and has been instrumental in transforming museum education practice for the 21st century. Prior to joining MoMA, Wendy was Director of Education at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago.
Seth Horowitz is a neuroscientist whose work focuses on brain development, the biology of hearing, and the musical mind. As chief neuroscientist at NeuroPop, Inc., Seth has applied his research skills to real-world applications ranging from health and wellness to educational science outreach. Seth authored The Universal Sense: How Hearing Shapes the Mind and his New York Times article “The Science and Art of Listening” was one of the most e-mailed articles of 2012.
Marco Tempest is a cyber-illusionist and Director’s Fellow at the MIT Media Lab. Marco’s work blends video, digital technology, and social media to concoct a new form of contemporary illusion. A keen advocate of the open-source community, Marco works with artists, writers, and technologists to create new experiences, and researches the practical uses of the technology of illusion.