Saturday, 25 October 2014 00:00

The Evolution of Online Art Galleries

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evolution of art galleries

The History of Traditional Art Galleries

Inspired individuals have collected art throughout history -- whether it was a handcrafted golden statue or a nature-formed perfect seashell. Mankind is drawn to objects of beauty and intrigue. However, while collecting for personal pleasure has existed throughout the ages, showcasing these items on public display is a little more recent.

While museums for philosophy and research may have existed since the times of Plato, similar displays dedicated to art were a later invention. The wealthy sometimes created personal displays of favorite objects in special rooms or cabinets. The public were sometimes allowed to visit these showcases.

The earliest recorded evidence of such a museum is from 530 BC, as cited in Vicki Leon's books Uppity Women of Ancient Times. This museum was curated and owned by Ennigaldi-Nanna, the daughter of the last king of the Neo-Babylonian Empire, Nabonidus.

From then on museums and art galleries remained mostly private, with the Renaissance era creating some buzz for more public showings of art. It was not until the 18th century that art galleries really began to come alive as businesses and institutions.

The Development Towards Globalization

From the 18th century until the late 1990s, galleries remained primarily places of destination. Beautiful displays could only be viewed in person, meaning it was generally the elite class who could afford travel that could really appreciate a variety of art styles. Aside from the invention of the printing press, innovation regarding the spread of news and information was rather slow, tiresome, and costly.

Then the Industrial Revolution occurred with a slew of mechanical and electrical inventions. Science, technology, and communication started advancing more rapidly than ever before. It also changed the relationship of artists to galleries and encouraged the development of new art media. Even before the internet was developed, those who had access to computers found ways to exchange rudimentary character-driven art forms via fax, intranet, and other primitive text transmissions.

The Dawn of the Internet Age

Introduction of the world wide web was a true breakthrough in the ability of humanity to cross borders without stepping a foot. It provided a revolutionary playing field to level the divides amongst class and educational backgrounds. Anyone who can gain access to the internet has the opportunity to learn a vast amount of knowledge, share information with others around the world, and participate in new ways of communication.

Artists, web enthusiasts, and entrepreneurial individuals quickly found new ways to create, exhibit, share, and sell art online from the early days of the internet. OTIS (later called SITO) is perhaps the first online art gallery. It was placed on the internet in January 1993 with the purpose of "distributing original artwork and photographs over the network for public perusal, scrutiny, and distribution." With this prolific distribution of images, the debate over copyright laws for art in digital formats and crossing international boundaries began. In 1994 another popular online gallery began called This site served to primarily showcase the works of San Francisco area artists. A plethora of other similar sites quickly arose and has continued to saturate the internet since.

Mailing lists and forums were also very popular from the outset of the internet to exchange ideas about anything from the creation of art to the business of art to the development of specific art platforms. One such mailing list, Rhizome, has now flourished into a tight-knit community of thinkers and artists, sharing regularly about new media forms and the influence of technology.

The business side of things was a natural, and quickly embraced, step in the transition of art to the web. In fact, the first advertisement ever published to the internet was a promotion for seven art museums. The selling of art online advanced quickly. Ebay (originally called AuctionWeb) was a popular selling place in the early days, and still is for many artists and buyers. was another viable option and those who jumped in early saw a profitable return.

More sophisticated forms of online art galleries began dedicating larger and larger amounts of money to the interactive and responsive display of art, really encouraging the development of finer web designs and marketplaces. Etsy, Saatchi Art Gallery, and Fine Art America are just a few of the many hundreds of examples of art showcases for the web. Each has their own nuances, online communities, and emphasis for focus.

Personal Online Art Gallery Websites

Personal artist websites are also a convenient form of art display and have been popular from the beginning. Here, artists have the ability to completely control the dissemination of information and display of their work. There is no curator, no art juror, and no need for a resume. A personal website is the simplest of all online galleries, in terms of ease of access and lack of entrance restrictions. However, personal websites do require maintenance, self-promotion, and a certain level of computer skills to manage. I know personally that my gallery of oil paintings, digital art, and collection of photography from around the world is an excellent outlet for me to express and share my creativity with an audience that would otherwise have no way of viewing my work.

Online Art Galleries Through Social Media Sharing

Perhaps the biggest contemporary players in the world of online art galleries are the several varieties of social media sites. MySpace and Facebook began around the turn of the century with similar intentions -- creating a space where individuals could meet other individuals through interactive ways -- that is, by using photos, videos, chat, and text. While MySpace remained popular with musical artists long after its fad amongst the rest of the world had died out, Facebook grew in power for both businesses and individuals.

Of course, Facebook is not exactly an online art gallery, but it does provide a simple fuss-free space for artists to display their work. Any artist in any country where Facebook is allowed can set-up a personal profile page or business fan page to post images of sculptures, collages, digital creations, and more. This may be the best online gallery of all because artists can directly interact with viewers on a one-to-one basis and the maintenance is very minimal.

More than that, the social media giant Facebook actually sponsors a corporate artist-in-residence program. The Facebook campus is littered with beautiful examples of contemporary work by previous artists in residence. The curator of the program, Drew Bennett, says the purpose of this program is to provide meaningful art on-site that can directly influence the shakers and movers within Facebook. This provides an ironic twist on the entire offline/online gallery dilemma -- this space is in a brick-and-mortar building, yet is for one of the world's most well known online sites.

Other social media sites like Tumblr, Twitter, Reddit, and Pinterest also each provide unique ways of sharing art with potential clients and other like-minded people. Even photo-sharing site like Flickr can have their day as gallery spaces. Learning the "language" of the general mass of users on each site takes some practice, but all can be profitable and functional for independent artists.

The Future of Art Galleries – What’s Next?

With the onset of wearable technology, simulated realities, and other transhumanistic developments, there are yet many underexplored other-reality venues for the display of art. These futuristic advances in technology will greatly impact our world and thinking, and no doubt artists will respond. Large companies are now rapidly advancing virtual reality technology, with several products already available on the market. The primary focus has been on online gaming, surreal experiences, or augmented reality, but it would not be surprising to see these advances applied to art gallery viewing experiences. Imagine virtually touring artist galleries with other virtual guests, with life-like precision. Of course, this could never replace the experience of viewing physical art, but it could certainly open up more interest or appreciation of the arts.

The amazing globalized world we now live in makes it the perfect time for anyone who's ever wanted to view, create, buy, or sell art to give it a try. With the ease of purchasing original art online, the ability to buy and display art in your household is also just a few clicks away. In some ways, the 21st century is the most opportune time in history to gain access to and participate in the worldwide art scene.

Read 2048 times Last modified on Monday, 27 October 2014 18:52

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