Online arts: Click-fix culture

You can watch a rock concert and tour an art gallery from the comfort of your armchair. But can it replace the thrill of the real thing? Fiona Sturges finds out

My father wasn't keen on holidays, though he was a great watcher of holiday programmes. Having enjoyed a sun-dappled tour of a Mediterranean country on the television courtesy of Alan Whicker or Judith Chalmers, he would announce, with immense satisfaction, that he had seen all that there was to see, and there was no need for any of us to go. This was in the Eighties, long before the widespread use of the internet, though he was clearly on to something, since nowadays the concept of going out while staying in is an increasingly popular one.

Fancy an evening at the theatre but can't face the interminable ache to your derriere? Not a problem, as there are increasing numbers of theatre companies, from Big Telly to Black Country Touring, happy to stream performances live to your laptop. Want to see a band but put off by the exorbitant ticket prices? No worries. Two years ago U2 were among the first mainstream bands to allow one of their concerts to be streamed live – and free of charge – since when countless acts, including Florence and the Machine, Rihanna, Gorillaz and Arcade Fire have followed suit. This week Duran Duran will be upping the creative ante with an online concert directed by none other than David Lynch.

Now galleries are getting in on the act with the Art Project, a Google-sponsored initiative that offers online tours of 17 of the world's leading art institutions using "Street View" technology. As a result, sofa-bound art lovers can wander around the State Hermitage in St Petersburg, New York's Met, the Uffizi in Florence, the Reina Sofia in Madrid and the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, all in swanky high resolution and without fear of getting sore feet.

But is it really the same as seeing it in the flesh? Can a computer image, even one rendered in extreme close-up, really match the thrill of standing in front of a painting and feeling the physical force of its significance? I decided to find out.

My first stop is the Uffizi, where I am immediately deposited in front of a "gigapixel" detail of Botticelli's The Birth of Venus. According to the blurb, each gallery has chosen one artwork to be photographed in 7 billion pixels, which is considerably more than the naked eye can manage. In technological terms, it's very impressive. I can see every bump and fissure in the surface of the paint. If I were there in person, I would need one hefty magnifying glass to view it like this. It occurs to me that Botticelli would never have seen it in such detail and I wonder what he would have thought of us all marvelling at every sliver of paint through Google's high-resolution prism. His head would probably explode with the strangeness and complexity of it all.

I decide to go for a stroll, though moving around isn't as straightforward as I'd hoped. I spend several minutes trying to get through doorways but succeed only in bumping into walls. Attempting a 180-degree turn to look at a painting on the opposite wall, I end up staring at a fire extinguisher. This being a room dominated by 15th-century Italian masterworks, I can safely assume this isn't a piece of art.

Feeling impatient, I head to the Museo Reina Sofia in Madrid, one of my favourite galleries in the world. It takes several minutes to get my bearings and a few more to stop bumping into the furniture. But once I get the hang of it I begin to enjoy myself, zooming up and down corridors, whisking past sculptures and going eyeball to eyeball with assorted portraits in a manner that would be frowned upon were I actually there. But I suspect that behaving badly isn't quite the point of the Art Project.

There's a lot to be said for viewing art this way. Admission is free, there aren't any queues and there's no need to worry about having your pockets picked. Plus, you won't find yourself peering over anyone else's shoulder to view a work of art or listening to the babble of fellow visitors as they loudly broadcast their knowledge of Spanish Surrealism.

But it's no substitute for the real thing. Seven billion pixels can't accurately transmit the scale or colour or atmosphere of a painting or convey the sense of wonder you feel when standing in front of it. And only in a gallery do you have the opportunity to shut out the rest of the world, engage with a work and view it in context. My enduring thought, while strolling around the Reina Sofia online, is how nicer it would be if I were actually in Madrid.

So how about a gig instead? If any medium has fearlessly embraced new technology it's pop, so the streamed concert is surely live music's logical evolution. Without leaving my postcode, I barge my way into rising band The Antlers' show at South by South-West in Austin, Texas, the annual music festival famed for its overcrowding, where punters invariably end up stuck outside venues listening to bands through the air vents. Watching this rather fine New York trio, my initial feeling is of smugness. It's the same feeling I get watching Glastonbury on the television, getting the best views of the best bands without the threat of dysentery.

But as the show goes on my attention starts to drift. The thought that the lead singer Peter Silberman's voice sounds a bit like Jeff Buckley's leads me to temporarily wander off and play a bit of Buckley's album Grace in order to compare and contrast. While I'm at it, I make a cup of tea. About half an hour into the show I am distracted by a distant, juddering noise that turns out to be my washing machine.

The quality of concert streaming has improved immeasurably over the last year or so. Forget the grainy footage of gigs posted by fans on YouTube; now it really is like watching it on telly. But despite this, I still know I'm missing out. Filmed concerts, whether on television or online, invariably struggle to convey the tension of live performance. That sensation of a crowd collectively holding their breath as a song reaches its crescendo – you don't get that sitting at home.

Watching a band this way can be a lonely business too. I've grumbled on these pages before about the hell that is other people at pop concerts, notably those who sing along too loudly or photograph every moment with their mobile phones. But I'd sooner experience live music in a roomful of strangers than be standing there alone.

Art in almost all its forms is meant to be a communal experience, whether you are sitting in an opera house, wandering around a gallery or elbowing your way through a crowd at a gig. It is also a ritual, one that is about so much more than the final performance. These are pilgrimages made by people in pursuit of a particular visceral sensation. Often the pleasure is as much in the anticipation as the execution. Remove the build-up, the tantalising bit where you imagine how it will be, and you take away a vital part of the experience.

So you can keep your streamed concerts, your simulated gallery excursions and your laptop theatrical events. Believe me when I tell you that lying on the sofa, with computers, phones and remote controls all within easy reach, is my default setting. But when it comes to art appreciation, even a slob like me can recognise the basic requirement to leave the house.

Ultimately it's a bit like watching holidays on telly. Yes, you can cut out the sweat, the aching legs, the ravenous mosquitoes and the dodgy souvenirs. By staying at home, you can stare at the locals without embarrassment and take in the finest views. But it's just not the same if you can't feel the sun on your face.

peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Fans hold up a scarf at West Ham vs Liverpool
footballAfter Arsenal's clear victory, focus turns to West Ham vs Liverpool
New Articles
i100... she's just started school
New Articles
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
New Articles
i100... despite rising prices
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Gadgets & Tech

    Graduate BI Consultant (Business Intelligence) - London

    £24000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Graduate BI Consultant (B...

    Service Delivery Manager (Product Manager, Test and Deployment)

    £40000 - £55000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Service Delivery Manager (Product Ma...

    Technical Product Marketing Specialist - London - £70,000

    £50000 - £70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Cloud Product and Solutions Marketin...

    Trainee Helpdesk Analyst / 1st Line Application Support Analyst

    £18000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

    Day In a Page

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam