Web gives art higher profile
By Craig Welsh. Special to the The Telegram


May 1, 1998. Copyright © 1998, The Telegram. Reprinted with permission. The Telegram can be reached on the web at www.thetelegram.com

For Lt.-Gov. Max House, another day often equals another ribbon-cutting ceremony. However, instead of using a pair of scissors to cut one ribbon recently, he pressed a button on a computer keyboard.

Next thing you know, a pair of scissors darted across the screen and snipped some red pixels shaped like a ribbon, to a flourish of trumpet music from a computer speaker. With that the Art Gallery of Newfoundland and Labrador's (AGNL) Permanent Collection became available for public viewing on the World Wide Web.

The latest addition to world of digital art galleries is a joint project of Schoolnet, the Heritage Web Project and the AGNL. It features more than 400 images from 30 Newfoundland artists, along with biographies of the artists and commentary on some of the paintings.

The Web site features images artists such as Christopher Pratt, Mary Pratt, David Blackwood and Gerald Squires. Artist Anne Meredith Barry, also featured on the site, was impressed with what she saw.

"I think this is fantastic. I'm really happy about this, as I'm sure most artists are about their work being viewed in schools and by people across the country," she said.

Barry and fellow artist Pam Hall were both on the board of the AGNL several years ago and both advocated the creation of some sort of outreach program from the gallery to the people of the province

"We started off sending exhibitions around, but that's just too expensive. However, funding for technology is more readily available and that seemed to be the perfect answer," Barry said.

Caroline Stone, exhibition/education curator for the AGNL, agrees that technology can be a useful tool in promoting the arts.

"Even though this is only a small proportion of the images in the permanent collection, about 10 per cent hopefully it will inspire people to come and visit the gallery itself," she said.

However, the AGNL site is only one of several local art galleries on-line. The Emma Butler, Spurrell and Baird galleries also have a presence on the

Internet all three can be found via the WordPlay bookstore Web site run by owner Jim Baird.

Since establishing the site in 1995, Baird has added to it with hundreds of images from artists in Newfoundland and the mainland. While Baird recognizes the importance of exposing art to more people, his reasons are more commercial than the AGNL's.

"It's a marketing tool. It's one more addition to our venue and it provides information," he said.

"For example, normally, we'd have to send slides of images to the mainland but now customers can look at it on-line and have some idea of what the image looks like as opposed to being totally blind."

But how effective World Wide Web galleries are at selling paintings is uncertain.

While Baird has sold paintings because of the Internet exposure, Emma Butler can only recall one or two occasions in the last year when people purchased artwork because they viewed it on-line.

"I didn't really expect it to be honest," she said. "Buying art is such a personal thing - intimate even."

Artist Scott Goudie says while he's happy to have his artwork on-line, he can't recall hearing of anyone walking into a gallery and buying one of his paintings because they saw it on a Web site.

"We haven't had any cases where that has happened. But what it does do is get the imagery out there for people who ordinarily wouldn't go to a gallery," he said.

It seems many local artists are overcoming their hesitation about the Internet and there are more and more sites where their artwork can be viewed. Initial reservations about the quality of their images on-line and the possibility that they could be "stolen" and used for commercial purposes are no longer real concerns. As Baird explained, anyone who attempts to download an image of an artwork from the Web will receive a distorted image.

"These images are basically low-resolution scans. They have to be or they would take too long to download to people's computers. Because of this, any attempt to print them off would fail," he said.

Those who visit Web galleries, however, will see high-quality images on their screens - provided a good quality computer is being used. That being said, most people agree that nothing beats the experience of viewing art in person.

"The AGNL site is fabulous," Barry said. "Of course, nothing will ever give you the emotional reaction or the technical reaction to a piece of artwork (that) standing with your nose six inches away from the canvas (does)."

The AGNL Permanent Collection can be found at www.schoolnet.ca/collections and www.heritage.nf.ca/arts/agnl. The Baird Gallery, Spurrell Gallery and the Emma Butler Gallery can all be found via the WordPlay Web site at www.wordplay.com.

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