At the start of this paper, I was excited to explore the translation of the Freer Gallery of Art to the digital platform of the Google Art Project. Of course as a student in Art History, being able to explore museums abroad from my dorm room is a great tool. Yet the experience presented by a museum in a digital format is a much different one from the traditional museum-going experience.
My findings for this paper – that there is really no viable substitute for the physical experience of an art museum – were perhaps colored from the start by the fact that I am an art historian. Viewing the works of great masters in person is ethereal, and often changes the way one has previously imagined a work to look or the emotions it can evoke. However, after digging into the literature on the museum experience as a result of many variables (architecture, display tactics, lighting, etc.), it seems that the majority feel that the museum experience is one of an almost “spiritual” connection to the objects housed within, and ultimately disseminates some form of enlightenment from a close proximity to those objects.
With that said, I was surprised to find that some of the points from Cohen and Rosenzweig’s book ( the first reading done for our class) meshed with this same feeling of “loss” inherent in the digitization of physical history. Moreover, they felt that digitization does not necessarily mean “accessible” (economically speaking), a point of contention I personally had with the Google Art Project. While I did not entirely buy into the Google Art Project, though, its viability as a supplement to physical visits is undeniable.
All in all, I found the process of “visiting” both the physical and virtual Freer Gallery of Art and documenting the respective experiences to be an illuminating one. The process also made me appreciate being in DC, a place where one has access to so many renowned museums and thus occasion for “spiritual” and intellectual enlightenment.