Fine art is finally having its web 2.0 moment. The Telegraph today showcased the work of a Japanese artist creating exquisitely detailed digital paintings on his iPod. On a slightly grander scale, David Hockney will be showing a number of his iPad paintings at his upcoming Royal Academy exhibition.
Meanwhile everyone - from entrepreneurs like Twitter's Jack Dorsey to web giants like Google - is seemingly desperate to get in on the 'art 2.0' game. Art.sy - backed by Dorsey and aiming to to for the art market what Pandora's done for the music industry - is still to launch, though it poked its head above the parapet at Art Basel. Google's own Art Project made headlines earlier in the year with its "Street View in Galleries" proposition. And museums themselves have been taking their collections to the digital masses, most notably the Gagosian with its gorgeous iPad app.
These innovations undoubtedly do much to make fine art more accessible, but can they really compete with the thrill of viewing great masters up close, in the museums and galleries that house them? At the time of the launch of Google Art Project, Frieze magazine asked whether mass digital reproduction ultimately panders to our desire to simply look at paintings, without delving deeper and truly appreciating the context and meaning.
This is a problem the art website Artfinder tries to solve in a number of novel ways. On the surface Artfinder is a giant online gallery of the greatest images in art history - 500,000 of them so far. But beyond that, it's trying to build context around art the way Last.fm built context around music, through recommendations, social features and snazzy image recognition iPhone apps.
It's a much-needed approach at a time when more and more people are buying art online (something you can do on Artfinder, as well as sites like the Affordable Art Fair and Saatchi Online). Of course most people who buy art should be encouraged to buy works that move them, but understanding the history and significance of the work is also crucial. Digital art platforms need to ensure they maintain a connection to the cultural and art historical context, something which music is struggling with in these days of the instant gratification offered by iTunes and Spotify.
So, if any one of these platforms does turn out to be the iTunes of art, who will be its Beatles? Artfinder may have the answer to that too.
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