Looking at fine art without visiting the gallery
May 29, 2009 9:14 AM   Subscribe

What is the best way to view fine art without visiting the gallery?

I'm studying fine art, and I need a way to look at paintings without visiting the gallery or buying expensive giclée prints. I'm not happy using a computer screen - too small, screen glare..etc - so I'm wondering what the alternatives are.

I've been thinking about buying a slide projector, apparently this is what Picasso did. I've never used one before, do they produce a good quality image? Does anyone know where I can get hold of fine art slides?

Any other ideas would be much appreciated.
posted by vespr1610 to Media & Arts (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Any university with a dedicated fine arts library is more likely to have a slide collection. If yours doesn't, can you visit one that does?
posted by grouse at 9:22 AM on May 29, 2009

Response by poster: Sorry, I should have been more clear. I'm not at university, I study at home in my studio. There is a small art library where I live, but they don't hold a slide collection to my knowledge.
posted by vespr1610 at 9:58 AM on May 29, 2009

Museums in NYC, like the Guggenheim and Whitney used to sell slides of popular works in their collections. I haven't noticed them lately - but I also haven't been looking for them. Slides seem to be a dying technology, which is not surprising. (I have years of student and early work in slide form, and also a decent projector - all of which sit unused. I really need to scan them. )

Why not invest in a digital projector, and show digital images on a nice clean white wall?
posted by R. Mutt at 10:10 AM on May 29, 2009

Best answer: When you say that you're studying fine art, are you an art history major or an art major? I ask because if you are interested in really seeing how the piece was created, being able to see the facture, the manner in which the paint is applied to the canvas, then nothing is really going to compare to seeing the work in person. On the other hand if you are more interested in style, composition, and to some degree color palette and you don't want to use a computer or I assume reproductions in books, then yeah, I guess slides are your only option, especially since scale seems to be an issue for you or if you want to project images onto a surface.

Slides were used in the past more for convenience than because they were a superior form of reproduction. The quality of the image is going to be far more dependent upon the quality of the camera and the skill of the photographer taking the slides then upon the model of slide projector. grouse is correct in that most college and university fine arts libraries have slide libraries, but I think only grad students and professors can check them out. Plus, I heard when I was getting my MLIS that some were phasing them out in favor of subscriptions to digital image resources. And frankly I've used slides back in the day (early-to-mid 90s) from a very reputable university visual arts slide library and the quality was not great. Many of the old slides had faded considerably and even those that were not varied in color to the point where I wouldn't trust them to be true any more than a computer monitor.

Museums, not so sure about galleries, used to have slide sets available for sale to the public. I would trust those to be the closest representation, particularly in color, to the object represented. Trouble is now that images of the works are available on line and even art history profs are using digital available images and power point for their lectures, I don't know that they sell them anymore. If you have specific works in mind you could try writing the gallery and asking if you could purchase a slide for study.

If all else fails, you might want to try finding high quality printed representations of the work, getting a decent 35mm camera, slide film, a copy stand set-up and make your own slides.
posted by kaybdc at 10:16 AM on May 29, 2009

Sorry, a lot of what I wrote isn't applicable since I took so darn long and didn't preview. But my suggestions at the end still holds.

good luck.
posted by kaybdc at 10:18 AM on May 29, 2009

Internet Resources for Fine Art has a section called "Image Collections". Which might be a good place to start for digital images. It has wonderful things like: Art Images for College Teaching.
posted by R. Mutt at 10:34 AM on May 29, 2009

Best answer: There is no reason to use slides at this point. When I started in the museum field well over a decade ago, we were starting the move away from them. Looking back at all the trouble we went through to move people away from slides, it just seems silly now. There was never anything all that good about them except people were used to them and we had tons of them. The colors stink. They age poorly. Projector are finicky pieces of junk.

Think about how you can improve the computer situation and you'll have access to a ton more imagery at little additional cost.
posted by advicepig at 10:54 AM on May 29, 2009

Most art museums have a portion of their collection online. That's where I would start.
posted by Taken Outtacontext at 11:03 AM on May 29, 2009

I would also check the stronger commercial galleries like Hauser & Wirth, or the artists themselves, like Philip Taaffe. Though again, all digital.
posted by R. Mutt at 11:11 AM on May 29, 2009

I work for the publishing department of an art museum, and I can confirm that slides (and even color transparencies, increasingly, in terms of book production) are a dying medium. Our education department offers slide sets (at a cost of $1 per slide) of about 150 works in our collection; by contrast, about 70,000 works in our collection are available for viewing online for free.

Likewise, artists and art galleries are increasingly abandoning slides. My dad is an artist, and my parents ran a gallery for about 15 years, and their use of slides dropped to nearly zero in the past few years.
posted by scody at 11:35 AM on May 29, 2009

(oh, and I meant to second what advicepig says about slide quality -- they tend to deteriorate, so colors fade or distort over time. The last time I received a slide to use for an illustration in a book a couple of years ago, the quality was so bad that it was literally unusable. We had to ask the lender to reshoot the object entirely... at which point, they sent us a digital image.)
posted by scody at 11:43 AM on May 29, 2009

Best answer: If the computer screen really isn't cutting it for you, there's always books. Older books have mostly black and white images, with a few color tipin plates. The quality of these color plates can be quite good. Libraries have problems with people peeling them off the pages, and stealing them.

Newer books, especially text books, will have lower quality, digital prints. However they will have many more images, all in full color. For myself, interested in art history and a designer (not a fine artist), I learned some from looking at the image, but more from understanding the process and circumstances of the work's creation.

Of course, if you're looking to follow each brush stroke of a 13ft canvas, a tiny picture isn't going to cut it. Depending on how much money you wanted to spend, maybe an LCD projector with screen, and high-res digital slides could be your best bet. You could see works closer to actual size.
posted by fontophilic at 4:16 PM on May 29, 2009

Response by poster: Thank you all for your replies. It sounds like slides won't deliver the quality I require. One of your links led me to Scala Archives - I've enquired about costs for non-commercial use of their images - with a view to invest in a high definition LCD projector as suggested by a few of you.

I'll post the response from Scala Archives, for anyone who finds themselves in the same position as me.

Q: A few of you mentioned books. Could anyone suggest a good publisher? All I want is large, high quality, colour prints on every page - it seems all the new art books are packed with commentary, and all the old ones are black and white. (@fontophilic: interesting what you said about colour tipin plates, I have never come across these!)
posted by vespr1610 at 2:15 AM on May 30, 2009

D.A.P. (Distributed Art Press)

posted by R. Mutt at 4:56 AM on May 30, 2009

Response by poster: @R. Mutt: I own quite a few Phaidon's, but only for lack of good alternatives. Too much commentary, and I don't care for their approach to art history. They print the popular works really well, but unfortunately less well know pieces don't get the same treatment.

I'm not familiar with DAP, they look interesting though, thanks for the link.
posted by vespr1610 at 7:10 AM on May 30, 2009

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