You have tons of free resources: library books, internet encyclopedias, photo sharing, books on tape, your grandfather’s stories, etc. So why would you ever want to go to a place to learn about something? Why visit a historic battle site when you can watch a reenactment? Why go to Moscow when your aunt already went there and uploaded photos of her trip to Facebook? Why visit the Lincoln Memorial when you can just look at the back of a penny?
One of my favorite things we did in the last few days was visiting the Bayeux Tapestry. Before we went, I saw small images from the tapestry in its Wikipedia article and other places online. When we arrived, television screens in the lobby played little GIF images of parts of the tapestry that made it look like the characters were moving. When we got into the room with the tapestry, it was amazing. The tapestry is huge, and none of the pictures I saw before hinted at how large it actually is. It was hard to get a mental image of the tapestry before I saw it with my own eyes.
Not only is it hard to get an idea of the tapestry as a whole without seeing it in person, you can’t see the small details either. With any type of copy, either online or in print, you cannot lean in to study the stitching, closely observe the stains that have accumulated on it over time, or notice minute variations in the texture. The tapestry is not made of pixels or ink dots, and cannot be reduced to them.
The other aspect of seeing the Bayeux Tapestry in person is that it is an experience. Being in the presence of such an old, important piece of art is a unique experience. Even if you don’t like the tapestry itself, its rich history is a reason in itself to visit it. You cannot fully appreciate artifacts like the Bayeux Tapestry without a firsthand experience of seeing them. The tapestry is housed in a dark room with soft lights to preserve its vibrancy. It is mounted on an island so that it runs the entire length of the room, and then the entire length back. We had audio guides to help us understand what was happening in each scene on the tapestry. Instead of seeing a picture and reading text about the contents, I was able to physically move from scene to scene down the tapestry, with the audio guide supplementing information. When the tapestry was in use many years ago, no one scrolled through a photo of it on the computer, they would have walked, much like I did, down the length looking at each scene. It was great to be able to lean forward and examine the workmanship and see the individual threads, and then step back to see half of the entire tapestry, but being there to acknowledge its history, instead of just being fed the information from a book, was also important to me.