arts-techDespite the rise of the internet, visiting physical museums and galleries remains popular. Since 1975, the number of museums globally has more than doubled from 22,000 to 55,000. Europe claims a huge chunk of the world’s museums (over 30,000), and in 2014 over 75 million people visited museums in Europe.

Yet visiting museums and galleries in person takes time and money, particularly as it often involves travelling great distances to see great works of art and culture. There are numerous online projects aimed at making cultural institutions more accessible by digitising art collections, and uploading videos, photos, and other documents of culture and history. But is an online visit as good as an in-person trip to a gallery? Does viewing art online diminish or increase the overall experience?

Debating Europe recently attended the launch of an exhibition on Bruegel at the Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Brussels. Together with the Google Cultural Institute and eight major museums around the world, they’re mixing art, virtual reality, and technology to bring the Flemish master to a global audience who might not otherwise have the opportunity to see his works up close.

Want to learn more about how new technology might improve access to art and culture? Check out our infographic below (click for a bigger version):


In 2015, we asked you how technology can help introduce art to a wider audience. In response, we had a comment from Marijus arguing that seeing a painting online is a poor reproduction of the original:

Image of a citizenYou don’t see any surface. You can’t tell if this is gloss or matte or are there any bumps. Also colours look different, because colour is electromagnetic wave, we all see everything in grey if there is not enough light.

To get a reaction, we spoke to Jennifer Beauloye, Post-doctoral researcher in Museology and Technology and co-curator of one of the exhibitions currently to be seen in the Belgian Royal Museum of Fine Arts (“2050: A Brief History of the Future”). What would she say to Marijus?

For another perspective, we also spoke to Isabelle Vanhoonacker, Head of Public Services, Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium:

We had a comment from Paul, arguing that online museums cannot match the atmosphere of a live experience.

Image of a citizenTechnology can ‘introduce’ art to a wider audience but it can never replace the atmosphere of actually being at a live event, and that atmosphere is as much a part of the experience as the actual performance

I attended a concert that was streamed live to cinemas throughout the UK for a band I have also seen many times live, and even though I was in a cinema full of people, the streamed concert was completely flat and devoid of any atmosphere. I imagine watching the concert alone on your personal device would be even less enthralling

We asked Pierre Caessa, Programme Manager at the Google Cultural Institute to respond to Paul’s comment:

Does viewing art online diminish the experience? Can an online museum or gallery match the atmosphere of a live experience? Or should we see online exhibitions as a way to encourage more people to visit in person? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below, and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!

IMAGE CREDITS: CC / Flickr – Charles Tsevis

34 comments Post a commentcomment

What do YOU think?

  1. avatar
    Valentin Rotaru

    in a certain way it is but it’s not so bad

  2. avatar
    Bart Van Damme

    Sometimes yes, sometimes no. It can be very difficult to appreciate a monument when looking at just a picture, but to appreciate a Pollock painting, for instance, it’s sufficient to put a finger in your throat and look at what ends up on the floor.

  3. avatar
    Marika Kanta

    Δεν ειναι λίγο απο το 1975 , μεχρη σημερα 33 μιλίων .(δυσεκατομυρια ) ποιο πολυ εποισκαιπτες….!!!!! Για την Ακρόπολη αν δεν κανω λαθως…..

  4. avatar
    Andrew Lally

    Does viewing art in a gallery with only 5% of its total holdings on display diminish your experience, waste your time and waste your money?
    At least online, one can often view the total holdings of a museum.…/20150123-7-masterpieces-you-cant-see

  5. avatar
    Titi Puchal

    In a certain way ir does

  6. avatar
    Alba Forzoni

    in my opinion it does

  7. avatar
    Jiminy Frontemar

    Certainly the looks are very cold in my humble opinión

  8. avatar
    Roxana Tiganasu

    ..a bit ..depends what tech is used ..

  9. avatar
    Lisa Goldwater

    Only if you only view online.

  10. avatar
    Antonella Barazzi

    Molto meglio visitare e gustare di persona, ma nell’impossibilitá, va benissimo online..

  11. avatar
    Emilio Chile Acosta

    Tiempos Modernos, Charles Chaplin, se acuerdan de ese gran film? nos gusto mucho cuando jovenes pero, nos sirvio mucho mas como estudiantes, tenemos que seguir reafirmando, Corpus sanis in Mentis sanis ufff. saludos Ubuntu.

  12. avatar
    Simone Mura

    Nope. Probably it changes a little bit what kind of experience you have, but I personally believe that first, Internet allows more people to have access to art and that is amazing; Second, it actually enriches the experience. When I am watching a paint in a gallery I go quite fast because I would like to see everything in less time possible (my average visit is 4 hours and it is never enough), so I skip few things and ai Don t have the time to make all the connection. On Internet is different, I usually watch video of some statue or paintings and an expert who is describing the most important parts, I can search the period, search the origin of the materials, imagine all the work that is behind, make connection with other pieces, search the origin of the author, his biography, and the different meanings and interpretations. So I can have a full experience of the piece and then close the laptop and save another piece of art for another day, without the urge to run because the museum is closing.
    Someone before argued that is a virtual experience and not a real one, but fact is that Internet is just a medium, mostly a visual medium, and since most of the art is visual they can go perfectly together. Also your spectacles are medium, visual medium, but I bet nobody will support the idea to not use your spectacles to have a real visual experience.
    Furthermore, the media are changing so fast that really soon we could have some new amazing tools to experience art.
    On the other hand, we are losing something…but what? Hours of waiting in a line for the ticket, the silence, the lights, the choice of the director to arrange a room with the pieces that in his/her opinion are most suitable together, the fatigue to go up and down huge buildings and grasp at least the best pieces of art, plus the need to be there physically . I Don t know about you, but personally I can live without few things.
    Finally, is not the first time that the access to art is changing drastically. Most of the ancients pieces were made just for few families for the upper-class. The museums are a more democratic way to experience art which evolved from the personal collections of few individuals. Internet is just granting access to art to everybody who has a connection. It is a revolutionary path which is shaping a new era for art as well.

    • avatar
      PJ Forristal

      Yes to all of this! I went to the van goh exhibit at the philadelphia museum of art in 2012. It was too crowded and i was rushed. The google arts & culture app gives you the keys to his museum amsterdam and you can walk through at your own pace, free of charge with an augmented reality feature that zooms in and allows you to see individual brush strokes and threads on the canvas! The technology of the electronic experience has advanced to the point where there are advantages to be had with it.

  13. avatar
    Maria Antonia Ruf

    Isn’t bad at all!!

  14. avatar
    Toni Bisbal

    Esta bien poder ver arte por Internet, pero verlo en realidad es mucho mejor. Pero si no se puede bienvenido on line!

  15. avatar
    Nana Kobakhidze

    გადავირიე რეებს კადულობტ ჩემი მოწონება სანამ მე ვნახავდე მანამ გაქვტ ეს სერიოზული გასასაჩივრებელია პლაგიატო ქურდო ქარტველებო აქედან გამომდინარე მე არ ვიღებ მერე ამ ინფორმაციებს ჩემი პარალელური სახელიტ მოქმედებს ვიღაც ციხეა ამასე ციხე

  16. avatar
    Krzysztof Sajewicz

    WIFi everywhere…

  17. avatar
    Andrej Němec

    Dedicated smartphone applications

  18. avatar
    Wolfgang Mizelli

    how about first make people interessted in arts and culture.

  19. avatar
    Sebastien Chopin

    Only if you’re rich

  20. avatar
    Giulia Noia Dipresa

    maybe, but not anyone has the possibility to go visit museums for real… for instance.

  21. avatar
    Luchian MD Mihail

    Why do you even care ?

  22. avatar

    i think it definitely change the way we see those artworks and surely that “experience” would not happen on watching a Rothko on 10″ display. but the point is those works of art didn’t create to be seen on different screens and independent of spaces that gallery or museums gave them. and that brings a desire to new kind of artworks. art that could be “felt” or “experienced” even through these new ways of presentations, that are not just the ways of presentation but new structures that we born and think inside them.

  23. avatar
    rachel frampton

    I’ve been wanting to visit art exhibitions, but I barely have the time so I look at the artists’ masterpiece online. I agree with Paul’s comment that although technology can introduce art to a wider audience, it won’t be able to replace the atmosphere that can feel whilst we are at the event. I should probably make time and find an art exhibition where I could buy new paintings.

  24. avatar
    Rebecca Wang

    It’s a significant step forward towards cultural inclusion and no-barrier art resource accessibility. It’s is also a complementary way to reserve and recycle art and the educational information surrounding it. People will make choices to visit the art in person or online based on their situational circumstances. As art institutions and advocating organizations, delivering both options to world audience would be need to be prioritised equally in order to best their work in preserving and promoting art.

  25. avatar

    I think art and music both unite us bcoz when the 3-4 art making by the group of artist and the all are decided to make the art best they are unite and together . If I m right pls comment me

  26. avatar
    Tracy Marr

    Does viewing art online diminish the experience?
    It’s a different experience; whether you view it as diminished is relative to your in personal experiences. Online you have exclusive asses with no interruptions and the ability to comprehend the art piece with your own terms. In person the whole sensory experience of other people talking and admiring the art may give you further ideas to consider. You may see it clearer in person but with distractions may miss an important aspect. Where as online you may miss an important aspect like texture or smell that add’s the the experience.
    Therefore both experiences are relevant in their existence without diminishing the other.

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