Art Appreciation: In-Person vs. Online

Art Appreciation: In-Person vs. Online

Tess Wilson
May 30, 2013

If you're lucky enough to own works of art, did you buy them after seeing them online, in real life, or both? How did the two purchasing experiences compare? Were you pleasantly surprised when you saw your purchase in person for the first time? Were you disappointed by a piece once it was out of the gallery context? 

Art:21 has a fascinating article, "Aslant a Brook: A Scientific Approach to Comparing the Gallery and the Virtual", discussing a study in which museum visitors wore eye-tracking devices whilst viewing a painting. Their eye movements were compared to those of people looking at the same painting on a computer screen. The author explains the findings better than I could, but basically, the museum visitors looked more closely and spent more time, and focused more on the details of the painting. This last part makes perfect sense to me, especially when it comes to painting, because there are often so many tiny textural details that beg to be appreciated. Perhaps a painting is "about" a woman, but the clouds way, way in the background are the most perfectly poofy and luminous clouds ever painted — you might not be able to see how the clouds glow if you're seeing the painting on a computer screen. 

This brings me back to my original question: how does the experience of purchasing art you've seen only online compare to purchasing art you've stood in front of? I think I would greatly hesitate to buy a work of art online, as I would worry that I couldn't really get a feel for the piece. It seems the subtleties would be lost, and I wouldn't have a sense of the work's presence. That being said, for my birthday I was given a screenprint that I featured here (shown above, with one of my rotating Get-Psyched Dresses), and it is so much better in person than I ever could have imagined. The colors are so rich yet subtle, and the silver detailing gives it an classic-yet-edgy vibe that I didn't expect. 

How have you bought art, and how did it work out for you? Tell all!

(Image: Tess Wilson)

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