How important is it to experience visual art in the flesh? How valuable an experience is viewing art through the medium of a reproduction or a computer screen?
Leaving aside digitally generated visual art which is made to be viewed digitally, I think as a society we are in danger of deluding ourselves as to what we can properly experience second or even third hand, and that something very valuable is being lost in the process.
I was reminded of my concerns on this whole topic as I sat chatting today with the Italian translator of the little book I have coming out this autumn. We were discussing the 20th and 21st century cultural divide: the generations who remain wedded to reality and tangible experience, and the generation which has grown up with mobile phones and the Internet. This new generation is so used to embracing and experiencing the world through the medium of technology that it finds it hard to actually look at anything for any meaningful length of time, whether we’re talking books, paintings or flowers in the garden.
Okay, I’m guilty of generalising, but I’ve observed this phenomenon of not-looking a little too often for me to dismiss it as of no concern. It particularly bothers me in relation to two-dimensional visual
artforms, and I wonder where it will all lead.
Paradoxically In this age of mass photography and reproduction (and given I employ a lot of digital technology in my work) my own recent paintings are un-reproducible. I rather like this, although it’s a bit of a nuisance in terms of keeping a visual record of my exhibitions on my website and blogs. The high gloss mirror finish I use makes photographic recording impossible. In this age of digital reproduction, my digitally generated work cannot be properly viewed online.
In any event though, even before computers, photos were never a substitute for the experience of viewing the real thing. I have spent hours in front of works of art, trying to commit marks, colours, working layers and texture to memory, because I know the postcard in the shop or the gallery catalogue, however beautifully done, will just not present the same experience.
Luckily my book won’t suffer from this problem. The drawings are not reproductions of drawings: they are digitally printed digitally drawn and painted images and what you see is what appeared on my screen as I was working. I am therefore happy to promise a fully worthwhile viewing experience!