Category Archives: Week 10

What is More Real: the Virtual Museum or the Institutional Museum?

Estefanía Tocado

Walter Benjamin´s concern with the loss of the “aura” attributed to artwork closely related to its uniqueness and undetectable fabric tradition, was with the loss of the aura attributed to the artwork (4).  Therefore, technical reproduction, especially in the case of photography and film image, made artwork accessible to the masses at the cost of losing its authenticity.  Moreover, photographic reproductions allowed the dissociation of cultural objects from its material origins (“Malraux” Irvine 3).  On the opposite side of the debate and strongly influenced by Benjamin´s ideas, Malraux organized the project of an imaginary museum that would function as an abstract projection of a “cultural encyclopedia,” a term later used and investigated by Umberto Eco (2).  So the piece of art through photography and art books would promote a sense of national identity.  Mostly, this nationalistic discourse would promote and implement its cultural and artistic patrimony as symbolic capital.

With the Google Art project, Malraux´s idea of a museum without walls has been put into practice on a large scale.  However, this project lacks Malraux´s nationalistic tone.  On the contrary, the virtual museum opens the door to a global audience erasing the social elitism associated with the museum.  Nevertheless, is the experience of visiting a museum (institution) more real than seeing it on Google Art?  As Emily Magnuson postulates in her article about Virtual Museums and the Google Art project:  “While the project… appears to be a very good thing, it still begs a larger question that was introduced by Malraux:  does the advent, and now exploitation, of the reproducible image make our ability to apprehend art any more, or less, real?  What do we really gain or lose in this virtual reality?”

According to Baudrillard, simulation is not a referential thing or substance but the generation by models of the real without origin or reality:  the hyperreal (1).  To simulate is to pretend something that it is not possessed, therefore absent.  The real does not need to be rational because it is not confronted to an ideal or a negative instance.  All referents are abolished blurring all the boundaries between the false and the real, the real and the imaginary (2-3).  Taking into consideration Baudrillard´s postulations as well as answering Magnuson´s question, it seems to be me that the reproducibility of the image in virtual reality does not make our ability to apprehend a specific piece of art any more or less real because there is not a real referent to compare against.  That original reality attributed to the photographic image or the piece of art does not exist.  The romantic idea of the aura and the authenticity attributed to the piece of art comes to the audience as mediated on the virtual world as it is in an institutional museum.  In the physical museum, the artwork has been selected by a curator, has been displayed in a specific room, establishing in that manner an open dialogue with the other works of art exposed.  Moreover, each individual piece has been catalogued according to its creator, forcing the entire collection of that specific artist to enter into a larger dialogue with all the other works that are present in the museum.  Finally, all artwork exposed has to establish a symbiotic relationship with the physical space of the museum and its architectural limitations.  Therefore, the visitor captures a specific moment when they visit the museum which is not a reflection of a tangible reality, but only what they have experienced and perceived while being there.  In the case of a virtual museum such as Google Art, its team has chosen what artwork should be part of their catalogue, how to display them, how to organize them, and how to present them to the audience.  Nevertheless, there is a major difference.  While the virtual project lacks the symbolic capital and cultural value attributed to the museum (the institutionalized state that Bourdieu refers to), the museum implements it and promotes it as a representation of a cultural capital and in many cases as a sign of national identity.  So the artwork actually represents the objectified state in the form of cultural goods.

Returning to Magnuson´s last question, it is unclear if we lose or win in this virtual reality.  While the virtual user has the ability to become its own curator and choose how to experience a specific collection, what order to follow, and what pieces of art to meticulously observe, it also loses some of the emotional experience of visiting an important museum.  Personally I believe that with the virtual museum we are winning the opportunity to make art more accessible to a larger audience, but above all to establish an open and individualistic conversation with the piece of art that cannot be experienced in an institutionalized museum.  In the virtual world, we can study in detail a specific work of art, stare at it, and find ways to make it ours; make it more personal.


Works cited

 Baudrillard, Jean. “The Precession of Simulacra.” Media Theory and Cognitive Techonologies. Georgetown U. 2005-2014. Web. 25 March 2014.

Benjamin, Walter. “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.” Illuminations. New York: Schoken Books, 1969.

Bourdieu, Pierre. “The Production of Belief: Contribution to an Economy of Symbolic goods.” Media, Culture and Society 2 (1980): 261-293.

—. “The Forms of Capital.” Ökonomisches Kapital, kulturelles Kapital, soziales Kapital.” in Soziale Ungleichheiten (Soziale Welt, Sonderheft 2). Ed, Reinhard Kreckel. Goettingen: Otto Schartz & Co. 1983.183-98.

Irvine, Martin. “Malraux and the muse imaginare.” Media Theory and Cognitive Techonologies Georgetown U. 2005-2014. Web. 25 March 2014.

Magnuson, Emily. “Virtual Museums.” Media Theory and Cognitive Techonologies. Georgetown U. 2005-2014. Web. 25 March 2014.



Individual Creation and Collective Reproduction

Tianyi Cheng

Benjamin’s thought is enlightening because he put art and cultural productions in a grand background and criticize them on different levels. However, when reading his articles, I got a feeling that the narrative might be too grand in certain aspect. Benjamin seems to draw a line between fine art and pop culture, which sometimes cannot be differentiated clearly especially nowadays. He viewed the repeatability is “the stripping of the veil from the object” and “the destruction of the aura” (Benjamin, 2008). By using the metaphor of “aura”, he viewed the traditional and elite artworks as better forms. I am not sure whether there is a contradiction between this attitude and his political position. He criticized the ideology of bourgeoisie while showed individualist and elite spirit in his taste of art. His idea of “aura” has some romanticist’s nostalgia to me.

One meaning of the term “reproduce” that Benjamin uses implicates that the creators of art works deliberately make certain number of copies of the productions. However, I think this concept cannot be easily applied to the age of Web 2.0. When an Internet user creates an artwork on line, he or she usually can’t decide the number of copies of her work. It might even be not proper to count copies of online works. Even though the work can be displayed on many other users’ screens, the creator might still view it as a single creation, which is only viewed from many audiences who access the pages. There is no clear process of duplication and how the artwork is spread is largely depend on audiences’ clicks. The publics are not such passive receivers of cultural productions. Also, a digital creation doesn’t have an unique existence at the place. Benjamin’s emphasis on the context of place is attractive but sounds as Luddism nowadays.

Composer Eric Whitacre led a virtual choir of singers from around the world. He talks through the creative challenges of making music powered by YouTube, and unveils the first 2 minutes of his new work, "Sleep".

Composer Eric Whitacre led a virtual choir of singers from around the world. He talks through the creative challenges of making music powered by YouTube, and unveils the first 2 minutes of his new work, “Sleep”.

However, this “back to the old time” inclination reminds me a book called You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto, which is written by Jaron Lanior, who coined the word of “virtual reality”. But Lanier takes a different perspective than Benjamin and Bourdieu, who criticized the maintenance of ideological discourses in the social fields such as culture and media, which Bourdieu called collective misrecognition (Irvine). If these two scholars want to decode the value of art value. Lanier thinks that there are not too much meaningful value that has been newly encode into online art activities.

Lanier doubted the tendency of collective creation in the age of Web 2.0. He used to lay great hope in the new media environment of creation. However, the first ten year of this century passed, he commented with frustration that there was no new creative pattern of music which can represent 21 century (I don’t know whether he has commented on Eric Whitacre). Also, most spoofs and remixes are inferior. He set “peer production” aside from those which are real original and blamed the online conformity for causing the lack of creation. To him, The Cloud is threatening ingenuity. The real-time individuality and independent creativity are always the root of variety of ideas, art works and digital productions. For me, this argument sounds more convincing than the “aura” conception to support traditional creation pattern.

Works Cited

Benjamin, W. (2008). The work of art in the age of its technological reproducibility, and other writings on media. Harvard University Press.P255-256

Irvine, Martin. “Cracking the Art Value Code: Thinking with Bourdiew.” Web

Lanier, Jaron (2010). You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto. New York: Knopf.


Google Art Project: Art and Museums in the Digital Age.

What is art?  Art is a human representation of feelings and experiences.  Art is also historical and sociological, people through out the ages have represented various “snapshots” of the real world for many, many years using different representations such as paintings or sculptures.


Video: Leon Botstein asks “What is Art?”.

Art has always found a home within the walls of a Museum.  In there, people can walk the halls of a building and marvel at the works of the American Painters or ponder at the colors used by impressionist or post-impressionist artists.   Wikipedia defines Museums as “Institutions that care for (conserve) a collection of artifacts and other objects of scientific, artistic, cultural, or historical importance and make them available for public viewing through exhibits that may be permanent or temporary.” 

Google, one of the new juggernauts in technology has decided to challenge the conception that people may have about a museum by introducing a new application: “The Google Art Project”.  By using it’s Google Street View Technology, they are giving the user the opportunity to visit art museums from all over the world as well as seeing different pieces of artwork up close.


With the use of this technology, Google can encode all the information about the museums surroundings and send it through cyberspace where a teenager from Australia can visit and feel the experience of going into the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

This technology is using code in the form of images to reproduce works of art and deliver them to a computer that will probably be miles away.  When artistic objects are separated both from conditions of origin and operation in experience, a wall is built around them that renders almost opaque their general significance, with which aesthetic theory deals. (Dewey, 2)

Art as a digital reproduction loses its emotional impact.  You cannot possibly sense what the painter tried to communicate with a computer acting as a barrier between you and the art.  But as stated by Malraux in “The Imaginary Museum”:   if the masses are not going to art, the fatal nature of technologies means that art is going to the masses.



Museums are meant to be experienced and enjoyed,  people specialized in different areas have organized the artwork following a detailed structure, there is lightning and even sound to affect the mood.  All of this can’t be possibly enjoyed through a computer.

Google’s intentions of knowledge democratization and sharing this so it can be enjoyed are noble and commendable.  But projects like this are making people lose the ability to enjoy, analyze and even further discuss things.  People  just want to look, and in this way we appear to be losing traction in the evolution of the “museum” and its critical place in shaping our apprehension of art, imaginary of otherwise. (Magnuson, Virtual Museums)

Van Gogh by Numbers

Video: Scene from the movie “Mona Lisa Smile”

Art works and cultural images are now being made to be reproduced; the most reproducible ones enter the marketplace (Irvine, 6)  Art work is losing its uniqueness in exchange for accessibility,  living in a digital world makes us want all kinds of information in accelerated pace and sometimes we don’t enjoy looking at the innate beauty of things.

The possibility of finding anything is just a few keystrokes and a Google Search away so we must seriously consider if the tools of the digital age are being used wisely.  Is it more important to gain quick access to any piece of artwork than the artwork itself?

Are we so eager to digitize our very own existence that we are searching for ways to narrow existential gaps without consideration on how we are really making them wider?

Living a full live from the comfort of tour own living room.  Museums are cultural institutions that should be preserved and taken care of.  They are small universes that are able to take us to  different worlds and historical places and as such should be a mean to feed the user’s imagination not some collection of pixels stored far, far away.


Dewey, John. Art as experience. Penguin, 2005.

Wikipedia “Museum”

Irvine, Martin “Mediation and Representation: Plato to Baudrillard and Digital Media.”

André Malraux, “La Musée Imaginaire (The Imaginary Museum)”.

Emily Magnuson “Virtual Museums”