Technology in the art world is ever growing with methods of production and representation now including 3D printing, lasers, robots and polluted air. Advances in technology also have allowed us greater visibility on older works, including those by the Old Masters. High resolution online photography permits viewers to scroll and zoom over works too delicate to be on display and digital tours allow virtual visitors to ‘pace’ the floors of galleries all over the world. The film ‘Loving Vincent’ released last year, showed the life of van Gogh through an animated series of paintings, each representing a different frame.

Gone are the days of only being able to view reproductions of pieces in books and on posters, yet the debate continues as to whether there is merit in still seeing artwork in the flesh. We now have the ability to digitally see a piece from every angle and in the context of the wealth of other pieces on display, so what is the advantage of seeing something in person?

Until we have holograms in our homes, we still will struggle to gain a sense of scale, space and the interrelationship between objects in museums. Works that involve physical human participation, texture or sound are often best enjoyed in the context that they were designed for, but it is the artist Emyr Williams who makes the strongest point, ‘reproductions can be an aide-memoir… yet the electricity of the encounter is missing’. It can often be the very visceral experience of encountering an artwork personally, that conveys its true meaning.

However, we can ask ourselves, does one method of viewing an artwork necessarily detracted from another or prevent a user from appreciating another? Does having seen van Gogh’s sunflowers online or in a film lessen the magic of seeing it in real life? Applicants to study Fine Art might like to explore this question in more detail in preparation for their interviews. Art Historians could further investigate new ‘ways of seeing’ artworks.

More Resources