Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Real paintings vs virtual?

There used to be a regular refrain from museum curators resisting the online display of their collections that the web would destroy museum visiting. Happily the opposite seems to be the case, with research in France (why have they alone bothered to check this out?) showing that the more people look at art on line the more likely they are to decide to go and see the original.

We all know what a poor second best art is on line, from very ordinary colour rendition to a complete lack of texture. Attempts to jazz it up have always to my mind been about the technology rather than the aesthetic experience. In that vein, I remember being shown a 3D rendition of a vase at the V&A ten years ago, which turned right round as if on a turntable, thanks to a myriad photos stitched together.

So when I saw that Google Earth has teamed up with the Prado in Madrid to put 14 images on line able to be inspected in microscopic detail, my first reaction was ‘who wants to look at them that closely’. It may be an amazing feat of technology to stitch together 8000 photographs with a resolution of 14,000 megapixels for every painting, but I am not sure who is going to use such a facility.

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