Think back to the first time you saw an artwork. You probably can’t remember, because it was likely long before you went on a school trip or on a family day out to a gallery. Your first look at a work of art was probably printed in a book, which may even have been just in black and white (with colour ink the preserve of pricier publications), or on an overhead projector – remember those?

Group of visitors in the galleries at Tate Britain

Over time there are certain perceptions you associate with an artwork, that become acutely familiar to you, even if you’ve never seen the artwork in real life. A faded poster of van Gogh’s Sunflowers in your Aunt’s living room that if removed would leave a sad, pale rectangle on the wall, a Turner postcard perched perilously on your greasy student fridge, a greetings card of Monet’s Water Lillies that you gave to your Mum on her birthday four years ago and has been on the same spot on the window sill since.

With images in books, cards and magazines restricted to the size of their static medium, and not capable of giving the level of detail now achieved on, say, museum websites, when you did come across art or an object in a gallery or museum, you’d of course judge it upon your only frame of reference – seeing it in print. Naturally you might assume an artwork would be bigger in the flesh than it appeared on paper. But art can now been seen on screen in multiple ways, not just the desktop computer, but also a mobile phone, tablet and even in the cinema.

 Sir John Everett Millais Ophelia Art & Artists Tate Collection online screen grab
Screen shot of oil painting Ophelia 1851-2 by Sir John Everett Millais in the Art & Artists section of the Tate website

This week, inspired by our online team’s recent visit to the Museums and the Web 2013 conference, we’re asking how seeing an artwork digitally changes the way you see it in real-life. Has your relationship with seeing artworks changed over the years? Do you think these technologies enrich your experience for when you do see art up-close and do they give new possibilities to those unable to view it in the flesh? Or would you rather art go back to the school books, so you can trace, tear it and pin it on your wall? Let us know what you think.


I studied Sally Mann's "Candy Cigarette" every year for 3 years in College, I based an entire project around it but I'd only ever seen it in a book or in the internet. In my third year we went to a Sally Mann exhibition and it was there. Completely changed the way I looked at the image.

In my humble opinion, seeing Art on a screen first does not change how we will experience the Real Art later. If anything the relative poor quality of reproduced images whether on screen or paper etc allows us to experience the real thing as if it were the first time.

often the sheer scale of a piece, first, then perhaps the delicacy, the deftness of the workmanship, the subtlety, the sublimeness will become apparent.

In a Gallery for example the Art is always enhanced for the bettter, by the viewing experience as a whole, we enter prepared to SEE the Art, to FEEL it.

that is a very important part of the experience.

Whether screen or print media, nothing can beat seeing the real thing hanging on a museum wall. Just one example: the vibrant colours of Van Gogh and actually seeing his brush strokes, the texture of the paint etc - nothing compares to this experience. So viewing some artwork on screen can only trigger my appetite to go and see the original (at the Tate?).

I feel that art gains another perspective from seeing it digitally, as the viewer seeing a piece of work digitally illuminates scale and depth. This can lead to us understanding the work in a complete different way to how the artist intended us to see it.

The book 'Ways of Seeing' by John Burger, really opened my eyes to how we see an image for the first and like MissNatalieee was saying, you can do a whole project on a particular piece of art without going to see the real thing. Where when we see the piece in it flesh or opinion changes, this could mean that all the work we have done previously becomes irrelevant.

You only have to think about the painting of the 'Mona Lisa' by Da Vinci to understand that it needs to be seen for real. Just by typing the word into the internet shows how an image can be seen differently and lead to conversations like this.