Visiting an art gallery can be motivated by many reasons; sometimes multiple reasons simultaneously. The psychological phenomenon of “mirroring” or empathy seems to be part of the experience, though, as one clicks through an online gallery, or wanders from room to room to gaze at some pieces but glimpse other ones in passing, without looking at the label or encroaching on the frame and surface to immerse oneself in the place and time of composition. The experience of mirroring is a kind of sympathetic resonance or a recognition that there is something in the scene that touches one’s own interior; something of a similar or related kind. So a piece of particular beauty that speaks to one person may not speak to a different person in the same way, or to the same degree. This limbic system of emotional response works slightly differently among people, but it does seem to explain why a person is attracted to certain art and not to other pieces.
Now in the age of digital photos and cellphone snapshots, it is possible to visit gallery, museum, historical site, or series of famous tour sights to see and collect photos to document one’s experience of having seen particular points of interest that spark a feeling of significance or a recognition of personal insight and meaning. The lens frames and focuses the eye. It becomes a tool to interact with the scene and to communicate that moment of meaning to others, meanwhile overlooking other parts of the context and focusing only on the bit that seems important at the time.
Some may snap a memento to share on social media on the spot to say, “I was here & this was a delicious moment.” Others may go through the day and week snapping away, but feel satisfied that they have added to their own cumulative stock of life experience, potentially able to review or show to others, but feeling no urgency to revisit the now captured moments. Perhaps only a few people will systematically look through the day’s shooting or longer period of picture-taking in order to discover the pattern: what subjects, what lighting, what composition, what intentions seem to recur in one’s snapshots? By regarding one’s camera(s) as the recordkeeper that extends one’s eye and awareness, much can be discovered about self and about the society one moves through.