Despite 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:
You 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.
Technology 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!