Our Art and Images on the Web: An Uneasy Conundrum, Final Thoughts

Peter J. Blackburn offers closing remarks to complete his viewpoint as to the appropriate roles the web should play in promoting our art.

Writer and photography / Peter J. Blackburn

This gum print is from my series, Popping Gum: Exploring Pop Art in Gum. This is probably one of just a few prints which I can celebrate diverse web renderings. Regardless, I still prefer the physical print!
This tricolor gum print entitled, Punked Out Teeth, is from my series, Popping Gum: Exploring Pop Art in Gum. This is probably one of just a few prints which can endure diverse web renderings to my satisfaction. Regardless, I still prefer the physical print!

Dining at a picnic table outside a seafood hut some weeks ago, my eyes couldn’t help but notice all the cell phones. A gentleman on my left stood near his Porsche texting on his iPhone. Both a child and mother seated to my right had their hands busy with a phone, the youngster playing some noisy and annoying video game. In front of me sat a whole family, each one with heads bowed to that small glowing light emanating from their laps. Little did they care that their food was getting cold! And inside, through a large glass window, I could spy three, four, no, five customers awaiting their fish and chip orders by pushing little buttons, swiping fingers, and rotating those hand held devices from one angle to another. At one point, I suddenly realized I was the only one not engaged with a phone!


That the cell phone is everywhere, used by almost everyone, at every hour, every minute, every second, seems a compelling reason to place likenesses of our work on the web. As displayed via our computers, our iPads, and yes, our cell phones, the web heralds the news that we and our work exist somewhere on the planet.

So, over the years, resemblances of my work have found their way on the web. There are sites and pages where you can peruse representations of the gum and casein photographs I create—all posted as an announcement, as a token of information, as a spark of motivation.

However, truth be told, the primary reason I place these gestures of my art on the web is so they may serve as encouragement to you to come and see the work for yourself.

Now, I realize for reasons of distance or convenience most viewers cannot and are confined to enjoy only what the web can offer. My only wish is that one and all would see my images on the web as quite imperfect representations, not the genuine articles.

This whole issue was driven home to me three weeks ago during a visit to the big art museum in Dallas. On special exhibit was an assortment of exquisite floral works by various painters from Chardin to Matisse. I was mesmerized by virtually every piece, including the five paintings by Van Gogh. I sat on a bench for nearly an hour just feasting upon all the beauty which graced the gallery space around me.

The exhibit made such an impression (um, no pun intended), I was compelled to seek out the published catalog for possible purchase. But as I previewed the pages and examined the reproductions, I was utterly appalled by the lack of… the lack of life! It was then that I took the public copy of the textbook and went from piece to piece to compare the originals with the reproductions. In almost every case the reproductions failed to capture any of the sparkle, the texture, or vivid color of the original works just a few feet away on the walls.  From Matisse to Bazille to Delacroix, the reproductions were dark, flat, and dead.

So awful was the catalog that I had to go back and view again every single piece of original painting so as to erase all memory of those dreadful reproductions.

And that’s how I feel when I see “my own work” on the web.

Go ahead. Glean what you wish from my images through your not-as-smart-as-you-think electronic gadgets. But please! Get out of your seats once in awhile and go enjoy all the tangible work on location you can find, at every opportunity you receive!

Peter J. Blackburn, MA, has been working in gum and casein bichromate printing for over thirty years. He is represented by Afterimage Gallery, Dallas, Texas. You can also see Peter J. Blackburn’s gallery or read more articles he has written.

3 thoughts on “Our Art and Images on the Web: An Uneasy Conundrum, Final Thoughts”

  1. Had a very brief conversation about this type of thing yesterday with Michael Massaia, regarding the subtle finishing processes that bring an image to life vs. flattening it out. It spans across processes (as you point out with your example of painting). A few moments later, we were trying to convince Mel Digiacomo that Pt/Pd prints of his work would be much better than the reproductions in his book (as good as the printing is in the book). Nothing compares to the the real work, and I find myself repeating that mantra to my students. I’ll probably point to this article as further evidence, hoping that it convinces one more of them to get to the gallery or museum (to see the intangible things that are so difficult to write about, and impossible to represent digitally).

  2. Hi Elizabeth! Thank you so much for your comments and additional insights. Seems we share some of the same apprehensions when viewing art on the web. I had the same feelings when I downloaded my first image to the web years ago. No matter how I scanned and rescanned, tweaked, fixed, adjusted, and stood on my head, the web reproduction never captured what I saw on the print. It drove me crazy with disappointment. The WYSIWYG mantra just doesn’t seem to live up to its billing when it comes to art on the web. But I do appreciate immensely this site and others like it for displaying and promoting the images we submit, allowing artists everywhere to become informed and inspired. I appreciate what I see of your artistry on the web, Elizabeth. All the best to you.

  3. Peter, all so true! Reducing large and medium format analog images down to 72 dpi breaks my heart into low-resolution pieces (with jagged, rectilinear edges).

    While faded slides and badly printed catalogs are discouraging, I suspect the glowing screens of the current era are subtly more misleading. A chorus of angelic marketing voices has persuaded each of us that our screen is THE PERFECT screen for us, containing all of the latest and best display technologies. None of us want to feel that we spent all of that money on a screen to have a merely second-rate experience of art (or anything else). So, there may be a natural resistance to the idea that real life, which has less marketing for its merits, could be better at something visual.

    I find encouragement that this very website encourages the sort of hands-on experience that makes the strengths AND weaknesses of digital imaging vividly apparent. From the moment that someone uploads their first successful print to share, and finds that what they see on screen doesn’t quite do justice to the subtleties they can see with their eyes… The lack of that special something can’t be un-seen.

    Thank you for writing about this, so those who haven’t had a direct experience of comparing an original with its web approximation can keep their eyes open for the difference.


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