With the Internet and its progeny, social media, entrenched into our daily lives, images greet us at every turn. And images related to the fine art world are a ubiquitous part of that ecosystem. Not only does every serious artist have a website where digital reproductions can be viewed and purchased, there are large libraries of both historical and modern masters to be found at the drop of a search term. Add to that the use of Instagram and Facebook to disseminate artists’ work, and it’s safe to say we see far more art on the Internet than we do in real life.
Even art competitions gather entries digitally. Here’s an excerpt from a typical Call for Entries:
Work will be juried from images submitted only through the gallery’s online submission website. Images must be JPEGs with a minimum width/height of 800 pixels, maximum size 3MB.
Jurors of art competitions decide whose work is accepted or rejected. Chosen for their credentials and reputation in the art community, they base decisions on factors that include consistency across the works, the quality of the art, and the “wow factor,” all of which they must ascertain from “JPEGs with a minimum width/height of 800 pixels, maximum size 3MB”. Even in a world where visual literacy is highly valued, pixels are the standard.
I’m not writing to denounce the pixel as our main means of viewing and enjoying art. My practice has benefited from the electronic and digital tools integral to 21st century life. Hundreds, even thousands of potential art collectors can see a new work seconds after I’ve uploaded an image while sitting at a desk in my air-conditioned workplace. Instead, I want to encourage the direct engagement with art. Here are some of the benefits from seeing the work in person:
1. A truer color experience. Screens slightly skew colors. That’s because screens rely on three colors, red, green and blue, to communicate color through a sort of pointillist method. For example, a tiny red pixel next to a tiny blue pixel will mix in your eyes to be perceived as purple. When you see a painting in person, there are no pixels translating for you. I’ve often had studio visitors comment that the work is more beautiful in person than on the screen. When there is no barrier between you and the artist’s intent, the experience is direct, personal and immediate. And all the color your eye can perceive is before you.
2. A deeper sense of texture and form. Digital photographs struggle to convey it. For many artists, texture is a primary element of their work. They want you to feel it (with your eyes and your heart, not your hands), the ridges and valleys, the brushstrokes, the odd materials and the joy—or angst—that form the work. The sculptor wants you to walk around the work and understand its three-dimensionaity. Even when the artist’s style includes the smooth application of the media, that too, is better in person. Smoothness is a texture.
3. The opportunity to ask questions. You may be led through an exhibit by a museum docent. You may visit an art festival or an opening at a gallery. You may attend an open studio event. Someone there has insight into what you are seeing, eager to answer your questions. Even when it’s work you’re not attracted to, experiencing art in person deepens your understanding of it. It engages you with the art, the artist, and the culture we swim in.
4. A catalyst for social interaction. While it can be a beginning, visiting art websites is not conducive to building relationships. You’re likely to do it alone. You’re stuck with your own ideas about the sculpture or painting. No matter how profound, your ideas are better shared where they can enhance a discussion. Even on social media, comments tend to be brief. It’s not that insightful remarks don’t occur, but dialogue is limited, body language and inflection non-existent. Instead, imagine a live conversation in front of a Gauguin at your local art museum where you ponder out loud with a friend the implications of leaving your family for a faraway island to paint. Now there’s an issue to grapple with!
5. The sense of the maker’s presence. It was on a museum visit many years ago that I first encountered this phenomenon. Standing in front of a painting by Picasso in a San Antonio museum, I suddenly was overcome by the thought that I stood in relation to the painting exactly where the long-deceased artist would have stood while painting it. For one intimate, chill-bumped moment, I was not just swept back in time, but also attuned to the mortality of the artist and the relative immortality of the art. Seeing Vermeer’s Girl With a Pearl Earring affected me similarly. These moments will not come to you digitally.
Now, go see that museum exhibit. Take the docent-led tour so a real human can guide you. Make that open studio your date night. Listen to what other visitors say, engage with the artist and spend time with the work. Visit the art festival that comes to your city every year, and converse with artists whose work you enjoy. And instead of asking them how long it took to create the work (answer: a lifetime), ask what inspired them to make it. Their answers will enlighten you. Most importantly, let art engagement on the screen lead to art experiences in real life.
All art is copyrighted by Laura Hunt, and may not be reproduced without express written permission.