Internet Exposure for Art Museums, Good or Bad?


mona.2nd visit

About a week ago I was part of an intense conversation with the director of a major New York City museum (in fact, MoMA) about whether it is good or bad to have broad exposure for our collections on the Internet. (As if, in the end, we have a choice.)

The point of view he was articulating is a  familiar one.  Namely, that if we put high quality digitized images of our works of art on our websites, the “authentic” work will somehow be devalued, people will visit us on screen, and our galleries will be empty. And things can only get worse, with the integration of the  Internet and television, and 3D TV just around the corner.

Variations on a theme…. 

As TV was going to be the death of movies, as Blockbusters – the “Home Entertainment Center” – was going to be the death of both TV and the movies – and bowling, and just about everything that would oblige us to leave the comfort and safety of our homes.  

“Nesting,” “cocooning,” and the inevitable disintegration of our social fabric.

So why do those tens of thousands of people jostle in front of the Mona Lisa in the Louvre, so far from their respective “nests”?  For one simple reason: because it is famous. So people want to get close to it, even if they never really see it very well. And how did it get to be so famous? Through reproductions!

And wouldn’t be great if our version of the Mona Lisa at the Walters (above the door, at the left) were that famous?

Well, maybe not quite that famous.

The Walters - Renaissance Gallery
The Walters - Renaissance Gallery

5 thoughts on “Internet Exposure for Art Museums, Good or Bad?”

  1. This arguement has been around since Gore invented the internet. If we give credence to the concept that reproduced images on the net, even on high definition TV, would keep people out of musuems, then we deny the power of being in the presence of the actual object. And as museum-goers know, there is no substitute for seeing the actual object.

    When we think about all the reasons people don’t come to art musuems, and if we believe in the power of authentic art objects, then we should do all we can to expand exposure to the objects in our art musueums. As the awareness for these objects is expanded through such exposure, people will have greater incentive to go see these objects for themselves. We just need to provide new avenues and opportunities for discovery.

    And if we believe in the importance of art, and its history, to humanity, then isn’t it our respsonsibility to provide the greatest amount of exposure possible, consistent with our responsibilities for preserving these objects for future generations?

  2. Of course you’re right, Bluezdude, no matter what the outcome, it is our responsibility (in art museums) to maximize exposure, while preserving the assets.

    Is it not the same as celebrity, generally?

  3. For me the reproductions will not ever replace the real art. I like having access to the reproductions so I can see the artwork, but they won’t replace it. I go to most new exhibits in the Baltimore-Washington metro area. If I could, I’d visit every museum in the world. Not a realistic goal, but I can at least I can see the collections online! Also, most museums do not have the exhibit space to display their entire collections, so it is nice to have access to it via the internet. I believe that there will be a balance and that museums will always have visitors in their galleries. I always encourage family & friends to visit various museums! There is nothing like experiencing the real artworks!

  4. I’m of two minds on this; for me seeing art in books and over the internet usually inspires me to visit a museum and gallery, but I have noticed that younger people have had very few experiences that don’t involve computers, cell phones and seem less inclined to visit museums.

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