Transparent Walls: The Technology of Dissemination in Art Museum Collections

The still image has been paramount to human documentation since our earliest history. We have always relied on captures of the present to preserve it for posterity, and never more so than in the arena of art museums. Whether a physical painting hanging in a gallery or an extremely high definition image of Van Gogh’s Wheatfield with Cypresses available online, still images allow for reflection, comparison, and dissemination. While these three concepts are vital to the mission of museums, it has only been through embracing new technologies that museums have been able to truly adhere to their goals of global access to collections. 

Still imagery has allowed museums around the world to slowly eliminate the barriers between their galleries and a global audience. From simple reproductions in the 19th and 20th centuries to virtual gallery tours in the 21st century, museums are now able to share information about the physical collection and scholastic content of their institutions to an ever-growing audience. Through still imagery, the art historical discipline even gained a legitimate foundation on which to ground continued scholarship and general education. The key stages of both specialist and leisurely consumption of art-related still imagery involves projection, print, color, and digitization—all of which have helped museums disseminate their collections farther, cheaper, and faster with a quality respectable to the fine art being shared.