This photo turned up in my social media feeds a few times over the past week along with a slew of negative comments. I admit, my initial reaction upon seeing it was also negative. But then I noticed that the painting in the background was Rembrandt's Night Watch which I know is housed in the Rijkmuseum in Amsterdam, dispelling my first thought that these were American kids.
What else was being misconstrued, I wondered?
A quick search online took me to the Flickr page of the photographer, Gijsbert van der Wal, who identifies the group as students. I thought back to the field trips I had taken with my art classes to museums and recalled that there were always related assignments with each trip. This was before the advent of cell phones, so we all brought notebooks or sketchpads accordingly. Then I thought about the museums I've visited in recent years and how frequently I referenced my cell phone as so many museums now have great apps, interactive online tours and information-rich websites that augment the experience. Sometimes I was so intrigued by a work that I pulled out my cell phone to find more information about the artist, or make a note to myself.
While searching for the photographer, I came upon a blog post using the same photo, in which the blogger recounts visiting the Rijksmuseum. "I noticed that when school tours came up to the Night Watch, the museum educators made time for selfies before they began to talk."
What else might museum educators make time for? Allowing students to access the internet to research one of the great masterworks by one of the greatest painters of all time? I think there's likely more to this photo than meets the eye.