Is it live, or is it only digital?
Have you ever thought to yourself, “Why do I need to go to an art show? I have seen all of this artist's work on the website.” Hmmm...I ask you, have you ever been to the symphony or even a rock concert? Does an iTunes download or the CD come even remotely close to those live experiences? If you are being honest with yourself, not even close! The same idea applies to visual art.
First, let’s consider how a piece of art gets on to a website. Some type of photo must be taken of the completed work. Whether the artist takes the photos, or he/she hires a professional photographer, the photography process can have limitations in replicating original art. For example, some of my work utilizes metallic paints or pigments. As you view the work, the light catches these pigments in different ways with even the slightest movement of your head. The camera just doesn’t capture this.
Then there is lighting. First, if the medium is oil paint and there is even the slightest sheen on the surface, any light source can create a spot of reflected light, obliterating what was painted there. And then there is the challenge of evenly lighting a larger piece. I have used two spotlights crisscrossing at the recommended 45-degree angle, and I can still get areas of the painting that are darker than other areas. Finally, every light source has its own color temperature. Incandescent lights are more yellow by nature, while fluorescent lights are cool and somewhat green. There are color corrected bulbs for use in mimicking daylight, but even those can create a color bias in the photo. Even photos of my art that have been taken outdoors according to all the ‘rules’ for photographing art have needed subtle adjustments to correct the color to be closer to the original. (Click on the image to the left to see what it should look like!)
That brings me to the computer and photo editing programs. You may suggest that any color bias created in the photo can be fixed on the computer. Not so fast! Yes, color correcting can be done. I can adjust the color so that on my computer, the piece looks darn close to the original. I upload it to my website (keep in mind that most programs at this point will compress the image to a lower resolution/smaller size further degrading the image) and then ask my husband to view it. Whoa! On his laptop, the colors are entirely wrong! An artist has absolutely no control over the device on which you may view their work. They can take every precaution to get the image just right, but if your device is calibrated differently, the work will look different.
Finally, there is the issue of size. My 18 x 24-inch painting is going to look very different at perhaps 3 x 4 inches on a screen. What will you be missing? You might not see that subtle detail in the background. Did the artist place some small detail in the distance to support the visual story? You miss out on seeing the brushwork. The ridges left by the brush. Perhaps an intentional smear by the artist’s own hand. In the case of my pastels, a digital image doesn’t allow you to experience the shimmer of the individual particles of pigment as they sit on the surface.
Take advantage of opportunities to see original art the way it was created and intended by the artist. Live and in person. Visit a museum. Attend a gallery opening. Visit an artist’s studio. Purchase a piece for your home. Look closely at the art. Experience it. Allow it to bring you joy.