The first image below, a rather Van Gogh-esque painting, is the work of French painter, Maurice Utrillo, who has been neglected save in the postcard industry, where his paintings of Montmartre have been reproduced prolifically. A born-and-bred Parisian, Utrillo painted with the palette of Post-Impressionism. What is it about Paris that lends the city to endless pictorial and photographic representation? Van Gogh’s images of Paris, for example, are captivating, despite the fact that they are lesser known in comparison to his Provencal pictures.
This brings me to the question of the reproduction of images: What does the digitization of paintings do to art? Owning a digital image of a painting is akin to collecting a postcard. Sontag is spot on: ‘To collect photographs is to collect the world’. But this is a problematic practice, as Sontag argues expertly in her book. Aside from its more severe consequences, the act of looking at the picture in the palm of our hands will never rival the gallery experience, no matter how tenacious the advertising campaign of art websites (here I have in mind websites such as Google Art Project & WikiPaintings). Examining a Van Gogh up-closed reminded me that aside from the 2D image, a painting is in fact a three-dimensional, tangible object, composed of pigment and matter, a material thing of clumped paint that rises out from the flat canvas.
Can one linger and contemplate before a digital image the same way that one would in front of an actual work of art? What happens to the experience of fascination if the images of art become all too familiar, if the painting’s details and colours can no longer arrest the eye? In many ways, online galleries diminish the authentic experience of art. In a crowded gallery, it is easy to consider familiar Van Gogh paintings such as the Starry Night as ‘seen-and-done’ within a few seconds simply because we’ve all already seen it countless times. Vintage postcards have become an art form in themselves (mainly due to their value as records of late 19th- and early 20th-century society), but would we ever arrive at a day when digital copies can claim the same value?