Sketching not permitted

At a photography exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago, Mark Wilson of Philanthropr and Gizmodo spotted this lovely sign: "Are things so bad we've banned sketching?" What next, No Derivative Thoughts?


    1. As a gallery assistant maybe I can provide a little insight into this ridiculous rule. It’s typically the artists and/or owners of the art works/exhibitions that make these kinds of demands.

      It’s not the gallery so much as it is them respecting the requests of whomever lent the gallery their works.

      Other times, it is the thought of damage that might encourage these kinds of rules. Sketchbooks imply marking materials and it’s heinous how many people will take a pen/pencil and just mark on a work of art.

        1. It would be more insightful to see who the paranoid artist/owner of the exhibition is than to blame the gallery.

          1. You mean the Gallery at the ART SCHOOL?

            Whatever is in that gallery is no longer art if you’re not allowed to form your own impression.

      1.  the safe thing, then, would be to copy the classical pieces. In fact, where I studied art, that was exactly what we did, schlupped over to the campus museum and sketched Roman and Greek statues all day. To disallow even that (if in fact it is) at the Art Institute of all places is a genuine loss.

        1. I’d say, if anything, Museums have become much more liberal with their personal collections, allowing and even encouraging photography and sketching.

          It’s the special exhibitions where rules like this show up.

      2. As a docent – we only let people sketch with pencils – and they were watched. People can be idiots when it comes to artwork. I know some large scale photography isn’t necessarily glassed.

    1. Ah, yes.  Chigaco, Mozambique.  It must suck for people who live there and try to use Google to search for local things.

  1. Next up:  No Staring, ’cause maybe you’ll make a mental imprint of the image, and that’s copyright infringement!
    Hey, a lawyer’s gotta earn those martini & prime rib dinners somehow, right?

      1. Exemptions on memory erasing will be granted to those with the proper security clearances.  Although you will be required to carry cyanide capsules in case someone tries to interrogate you as to the nature of the exhibit.

        1. Shallow persons, on who artistic works leave no impression, will be exempt from the otherwise mandatory memory erasure process.

    1. “Okay, you can glance…”

      Reminds me of the day we went to the Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh; they said “We close in a half-hour”, we said “Perfect”. Went to the top floor, looked in the doorway and then moved on, all the way down. Stop, glance and go. No further study was needed.

      1. My response would have been, “Great. That’ll leave us twenty minutes to look around in the gift shop.”

        But then I am an uncultured barbarian.

  2. I have seen “No Sketching” signs before- mostly at special ticket exhibitions they want to cycle lots of people through, especially ones in small spaces.  It may as well be a “No Loitering” sign.

  3. If a Richard Prince photograph of a cigarette ad can sell for over $1,000,000, imagine what drawing of a photograph could fetch!

  4. Jeez, that’s some bad subject-verb disagreement there: the following ARE not permitted, no?

    I love photographs of “don’t take photographs” signage. ENDLESS RECURSIVITY HAHAHA.

  5. I find it funny that this photo exists, because photography is banned….. They must not be enforcing the rules very well. 

    1. For the most part the no photography (etc.)  signs are posted outside the entrance of the area they pertain to…

  6. In my museum studies classes we learned that sometimes they don’t allow sketching because they don’t allow pens and pencils since people are dumb and write on things they shouldn’t. Also they often don’t allow sketching (particularly without asking first) because of crowd flow issues. If it’s a small gallery, a person taking up space sketching for even half an hour can cause people to get much closer to the art than they normally would, and then people can bump into things and break  them. I highly doubt the spirit of that rule is copyright. 

    1. Hush, they’ve got a good indignation going, don’t trip them up with nuance. ;)

      Just kidding, but seriously, this is how a lot of these stories seem to pan out, a m0ment of impulsive outrage followed by a sensible explanation that never gets discussed or circulated. And there are more than enough real threats out there to make these sound plausible and distort our reality that much further. We gotta be careful, that’s all. >_>

      1. exactly.  as a lifelong service industry veteran, believe me when i say “crowd flow issues” are important.  don’t take it so personally, people:  I have a big tray of scalding hot food and I need y’all to sit.  the fuck.  down.  please.  just sit down.

    2. The evidence is against it though – all the other things in the list are to do with copying and the facilitation thereof, so even if the sketching bit is a flow issue (an issue issue?), anybody reasonable could be excused for concluding it’s about copying. Why bury the message you want to get across in such inappropriate context?

  7. They should also post this brilliant Texas road sign that reminds you to observe warning signs. So people don’t take photos or make sketches of the sign that says not to take photos or make sketches. I always thought it should say “Observe warning signs, including this one.”

  8. I just want to smuggle in a sticker to add to the sign which reads “Upon leaving this exhibit, visitors may be whacked upon the head so that they may carry away no memory of the display whatsoever.”

  9. This is how we lose our freedoms. First they ban sketching, next they will want to ban knitting, then there is no stopping them from interpretive dance.

    1. First they came for the photographers, but I did nothing as I don’t own a camera.  Then they came for the sketchers, but I did nothing, because I can’t draw for crap.  Also because “it’s the S.”

  10. I’m more annoyed by the redundant “No Flashes”,  “No Tripods” after “No Photos”.

    Unless there are those just wandering around with tripods or flashes without cameras, in which case, I apologize.

    1. I have been known to wander around with a flash in my pocket just to mess with people’s heads. However, I can’t recall ever toting a tripod sans camera or telescope.

      If you really wanted to be obnoxious, you could always have a small spyglass on a tripod and claim a visual disability requires you to use it to appreciate the art. IME when PC clashes with (C) PC usually wins.

      1. You can have them back tomorrow…I am going on a date later and I want to impress my ladyfriend with your thoughts.

  11. maybe “no flashes” is a typo, for “no flashers”, it might help explain “no tripods”. 

  12. To be fair, sketching is like really slow photography.

    How many years until they outlaw remembering stuff and confiscate your eyeballs?

  13. I was just at the Art Institute, which does not have a general no-pictures policy. I know because I got in the way of a bunch of people by pressing my camera up to the glass at most of the dioramas in the Thorne Miniatures exhibit.

    So whatever this is, it’s exhibit-specific. If memory serves, most of the photographs in that museum were in long, narrow corridors on the ground floor with no benches. Setting up an easel or, worse, holding your pad against the wall would just get in the way of everyone else. And the person who thinks it’s a great idea to take photographs of photographs is going to need about fifty shots before he realizes that his $99 digicam isn’t going to give him the results he wants.

    I’m not saying there isn’t plenty of rights-based fuckwittery out there, including in our museums. But there are also lots of perfectly good and completely unrelated reasons to regulate how people behave once they’re in any given room of an art gallery.

    1. This reminds me of many a pleasant afternoon watching idiots take flash pictures of the animals at the Shedd Aquarium. Despite the signs every other tank saying, “No flash photography.”

      Not only does it disturb the animals, but when you get home you will find you have a lot of lovely pictures of dim reflections of you and your camera in the glass. While it’s *possible* to take a flash picture through glass, it takes either special equipment or a lot of skill. Pointing your $99 digicam at the glass and snapping away will not suffice.

  14. +1 for the people pointing out that it has more to do with the policies of the artwork owners who are lending to collection.  Plus someone always forgets to switch off their flash when snapping a pic. And camera flashes are extremely damaging to art as far as long-term cumulative fading. 

    Also, don’t underestimate people’s extreme stupidity  to damage or mar works of art by prodding it with whatever happens to be in their hand. I’ve known curators who had to clean off tobacco spit from artworks. It’s a fair bet that someone will bring a leaky pen or some gouache in and sling it at the work to point something out. However, it never ceases to be true: The same dolts who bar any photography of amazing and/or obscure works of art, *never* offer any reproductions of that for sale – online or at the museum. I usually wait for the rent-a-cops to leave and just snap a picture on the sly. 

  15. “Art Institute of Chicago, may I help you?”
    “Yes, there is a sign in your gallery, that says ‘The following is not…’ followed by a list of things. It should be “The following are not”.
    “What.. How do you know this?”
    “Uh, a friend, a friend told me…”
    “You Saw a PICTURE, didn’t you! DIDN’T YOU??”
    “No no, I swear, it wasn’t on the internet.. I mean it wasn’t a…”
    “WHAT !!?? Look, we have caller ID. You better come clean”

    English Nazi 0, Art Nazi 1

  16. didn’t we go through this already on boing boing concerning the de young museum and in the end there was an explanation and in truth most museums won’t allow photos/sketching in travelling exhibitions… 


  17. Here’s the DeYoung”s (San Francisco) rules:

    Sketching for individuals with pencil on a small (9” x 12” or smaller) hand-held pad is allowed during public hours in the permanent collection. Sketching in special exhibition galleries is by permission only, subject to lender and gallery restrictions. Please read our sketching, photography, and painting rules/permit application for more information:

    At least it’s explained.

  18. Most rules are reactionary and more of a sledgehammer than a scalpel.  My guess is there has been a problem at that museum in the past with sketchers.   I bet it’s not someone with a notepad dashing off some quick sketches of the piece that interests them most as they pass through the exhibit or a passionate art student coming in when the exhibit isn’t busy to spend a lot of time really examining and studying a piece they admire  that the museum wants stopped.  I bet some people have tried to go all out, setting up a full sized easel, spending hours attempting reproductions of the works on display, stopping the flow of traffic, getting huffy when other visitors get in the way of their view of the piece, sketching REALLY conspicuously in hopes that folks will ask to buy some of their art (using that connection to sell the reproductions right then or to network business for later), that kind of thing.  But rather than debate and write up policies on how large your pad can be, how big your easel can be, what materials you can use, how long you can spend taking up a spot, how you have to behave respectfully of other guests, how you can’t use the gallery to advertise your own talents, etc, they take the easy one-size fits all, zero-tolerance, style approach. 

    1. totally.  a person can be smart, but “people” are stupid.  explaining to a person the “whys” of what you need them to do is polite but time consuming (time someone is paying you to do something else.)  if you have to give a lengthy explanation more than 3 times, you A) get tired of it and B) start to hate everyone.  hence “no photos, no sketching.”  Ice rink monitor here.  there are real safety issues at play here.  your rights really don’t enter into it.  i know i sound like a nazi, but walk a mile in my shoes.

  19. The sign was there during a print exhibition I went to in 2008, too…and then when I asked about photographing other areas of the museum, the front desk said okay, but the clerks in the exhibition rooms yelled at me. So maybe the Institute is just weird all over?

  20. I have a rule that says if you’ve got all those restriction, it must because the buzz would be killed, as should the artist, as soon as word gets out about how lame this dog turd really is, (and I’ve got the surreptitiously taken non-flash pictures to prove it. :-)

  21. Since the text is not grammatically correct (serveal things + ‘is’) it can have no legal force.

    1. Right, although an argument could be made that “photography” is correctly banned. Bring in your flashes to illustrate your sketchbooks on tripods with impunity.

  22. I would assume they’re really banning skateboarders and their hijinks. It seems obvious that there might be collisions and potential breakage, so it’s a perfectly reasonable ban.

  23. I used to work at that museum, so I am among the first people who is likely to have complaints about the place and their policies.  I aired quite a few of them during my tenure there.  Which may have been just about as effective as blind indignation on a blog  comment forum,  none the less, we parted ways on good terms. And  I with the firm understanding that like most institutions, the Art Institute is not a democracy.  That being said, all of these rules are not about locking down intellectual property.  The  sketching and tripod rules are about easing crowding in popular galleries as well as protecting basically priceless, irreplaceable  objects from accidents and vandalism (as suggested by others).   Sketching is allowed in some galleries and anyone willing to jump through some hoops will find that they can have a tremendous amount of access to some really amazing, beautiful stuff.   The repeated flash photography by the hundreds of people a day who may  want their picture taken in front of The Blue Guitarist or The Grand Jette  can damage fragile material and pigments in these objects.  There are certainly some difficult, conceited, mean, clueless people at that place.  There are also a lot of underpaid gallery guards trying to do a good job as the public face of the museum.  But to think that there are people there who don’t have an interest in granting the public access to art is just ridiculous. That ‘s what they do.  They share art.  They do it with passion and commitment, and they do what they can to protect the art.  So that may mean that if you decide to visit there you might not be able to digitize every moment of your consciousness.  I should also say that there are some really wonderful and kind people there, most of them, actually.  And I miss them.  And finally, if you want to criticise the AIC start with a picture of the admission price signage!

  24. Free to sculpt then? Away I go. I was also considering doing a wee bit of screen printing, do they provide all the screeny printy materials with which I am well familiar?

  25. Sketching’s not so bad. But it’s a gateway art. The next thing you know, you’re into photography. Hard. Best to nip these things in the bud.

    Regarding Mr. Christian’s comment above, the thing you’re all thinking about is called “Skitt’s Law” (looked it up for you). A skit is a sketch. Coincidence?

    1. A skit is one step away from a sketch and the next thing you know… interpretive dance.

      This is why we can’t have nice things.

  26. More artists need to wean themselves from copying photographs anyway, if they truly want to be artists instead of human xerox copiers.
    Before anyone balks at this statement, notice I said photographs- not paintings or drawings, where the student artist is trying through the process of doing to understand the master artist’s technique.

    As for the accessibility rules, I agree with mike wolf above. I’ve been to the AIC many times, and have seen some scary shit (from a conservator’s point of view) almost go down before an alert guard stepped in to save the day.
    I also know how narrow the hallway galleries are, and can imagine the mess when a rubbernecking crowd surrounds a talented sketcher.

  27. When I see rules like this in a gallery I am more likely to break it than if they hadn’t put a sign there to begin with. All it takes is a free silent camera app (like Toycam for Android – ) and patience to wait until the gallery dude walks off to guard another room.

    I understand that there are idiots out there who will take a picture or make a sketch and then put it up on the net for everyone to see, but why should we let those fools ruin it for everyone? I’ve never shared someone else’s artwork online (that wasn’t already there) but then I went to art school, so I understand how pissed off I would be if it happened to me. Oh, and touching/marking someone else’s work? That’s my definition of sacrilege.

    There is nothing wrong with documenting things you like. There is something wrong with sharing such documentation with others against the artist’s will.

  28. At my local art museum you can sketch in pencil only, with a permit. Even then you can only sketch the architecture, not the art! Like most art museums this is fairly neutral. I’ve seen folks in european museums doing full on oil paint reproductions of old masters without a care, in the middle of the gallery. Here in the US, I get to draw a perspective of a white room. I get as far as blocking out the rectangles of the artwork and I am asked to leave. :(

  29. When I saw the first BodyWorlds exhibition to visit San Jose, it was on a free student night and I spent three hours drawing one figure (and passively listening, the commentary was equal parts hilarious and awful).  The security guards visited now and then to glance at how it was going, and none of them bugged me at all.  But it is worth noting that this was at the Tech Museum, and they probably don’t have a lot of artists walking through with paper and pencil. I’ve been told a few times that I shouldn’t bring a pen into a gallery, but nobody has ever bugged me for having a pencil. 

    I wish I had a copy of the Tech Museum’s official policy regarding sketches. When a teacher of mine asked them if she could arrange a field trip, they sent a contract that each student would have to sign that effectively granted Gunther VonHagens copyright over the drawings done from the bodies in the exhibit. This was a good week after student night, so my drawing is still mine.  The teacher decided against the field trip after scoffing loudly. 

  30. I’m not a famous artist, but I’ve had a few shows in my life.  I’ve never banned any form of photography and in fact would encourage people to come in and sketch.  I’ve even had a few people e-mail me and ask me permission to re-create some of my photos as paintings.  It’s an honor in my mind that other artists are gaining inspiration from my stuff.

    1. That’s because you haven’t compromised with galleries who insist on bringing lawyers and insurers into the zone of your art. 

  31. I was a student at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago from 2000 – 2002.  When I started there, all you needed was to check in with the front desk that you would be using only pencils and non-dip pens and you were usually free to draw in the galleries.  After the 9/11 attacks and Chicago officially panicked that it Would Be Next, the Art Institute galleries stopped permission to be sketching in the museum.  Which, for its huge art school was a shock and horror since now it prevented students, professors, artists, or persons off the street to come in and reference the art on the wall or study from it.    As far as I know, this rule is applied to the entire museum.  

    And yes, as another poster commented, the museum often sites that the rule prevents crowding.  However, I remember asking one museum official, “If I’m sitting on this bench that you have put here for people to rest on, how am I blocking the walkways around the artworks?”  And when they could not answer that question, I proposed I stick only to chairs and benches and was allowed permission to draw.  Yes, I got yelled at later by other gallery workers.

  32. Have you ever tried to see an exhibit that is littered with people sketching and acting all huffy when other people want to see, you know, the actual artist’s work? Time and place for everything.

    I also note that if you camp out on a bench for 45 minutes to sketch something you are not using the bench the way everyone else is. You are spreading your materials around, and monopolizing the bench that other people might appreciate a few minutes to rest on.

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