Online Art Galleries

The term online art gallery does not need much explanation in the sense that it implies an art gallery hosted on an internet site, where you can see a selection of artworks by a range of artists. However, the differences between this and a bricks-and-mortar gallery are worth considering if you are keen on viewing and collecting art so that you can get the best experience from both.

Remember, photos are not the real thing...

Obviously, one of the main differences between an online gallery and one in physical space is that the artwork is only seen in two dimensions, as a photographic record of the original. The artwork can be seen online only as a hi-resolution digital image rather than the three-dimensional work itself. The quality of the image you see will be as dependent on the quality and size of the screen on your phone, your tablet, or your laptop as it is on the quality of the original photograph. Essentially it’s just binary code and coloured dots of light on an LCD and that, for most people, is far less satisfying than the visceral effect of standing before a painting of thickly applied paint or an incredibly detailed pencil drawing. 

For an art lover, this ultimately means that online galleries will always be second best for experiencing art because an artwork is a real, physical object made by an artist; unique, hand-made, unavailable anywhere else in the world, and therefore precious and valuable. A digital photo on the other hand is endlessly reproducible. Just do a Google image search of any famous painting and you will see that there are numerous different images of the same work. Take for example, the Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci. Poor Mona Lisa! She has been photographed under many different lighting conditions and with many different image resolutions. Looking at the hundreds of different photos, it’s confusing to know which one might be the most accurate colour reproduction. However, in the same way that people have adjusted to the difference between shopping for products online and offline, most people are aware that there is some kind of reality gap between the virtual image and the real and manage to adjust their expectations accordingly. 

Mona Lisa
The Mona Lisa

Search and find a unique object

In our world of mass-produced objects, something that is hand-made and one of a kind is valued and precious precisely because of those qualities, meaning that viewing and buying art is becoming more popular than before. The art world used to be a relatively small community of galleries and collectors but the internet has started to change this and the breaking down of barriers continues, in the same way that music being available online has changed the way the music industry operates. Online galleries are incredibly good at enabling us to do three things. 

SEE more art

Today there are hundreds of online galleries – run by commercial gallery owners, artists, or even tech entrepreneurs. The best sites are well designed and well organised which help the viewer navigate easily and quickly, seeing more art in less time than if they were walking round an actual gallery. Beyond this, all of them offer the following benefits: 

  • 24/7 access
  • No time or money spent travelling to the gallery
  • No jostling with the crowds just to see an artwork
  • Spend as long and as often as you like looking at the image

LEARN more about the art

Good online galleries usually provide plenty of information about the artworks and the artist without you ever needing to ask the gallery owner or museum assistant or read a book to find out more.

It’s also worth remembering that the art world does not comprise solely of commercial art galleries. Major public art institutions around the world have made huge efforts to digitise their collections (take digital photos of their collections) making them available to view for free online. For them this represents a huge opportunity for the public to learn more about the objects in the care of these cultural organisations. For example, the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam website has over half a million artworks available to view online!

With all these images and information available at your fingertips, you have the chance to develop your knowledge of art and you may find your taste in art changes as your journey of discovery progresses – maybe you get into contemporary street art which leads to learn about the famous American graffiti artist, Basquiat. Often you can learn history along the way as well. 

Jean-Michel Basquiat, Untitled (1981)

BUY more art

Thirdly, it’s much easier to buy art now than it was in the past. The existence of online galleries means that more artists can show and sell their works and the audience and market for art has grown.

If you are intrigued by a work or attracted enough to it to want to own it, then the process of buying an artwork online is usually relatively straightforward. Good online galleries will have safe and secure payment methods set up and will ensure the work is packaged sufficiently well to protect it on its journey to you. Obviously real world logistics and their associated costs apply but this is a small price to pay for the privilege of purchasing an artwork, made by an artist possibly on the other side of the world, whose works you would most likely never have seen had it not been for the internet. The choice is enormous. 

From online to offline

It looks like online art galleries are here to stay and are continually improving the viewer experience. Because of the internet, more people today than ever before can view and learn more about art while more galleries and artists can show and sell their work to a global viewing public. Online galleries almost certainly cannot substitute for our experience of standing in awed silence in front of a great painting or sculpture but they can lead us to work that does, whether we buy it for our homes or go to see it in a commercial gallery or public art museum. Online galleries are a hugely important new link between artists and their audience and this means that the art world today is an incredibly dynamic place. 

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Rachel Jordan