In 1976, artist and critic Brian O’Doherty published his essay “Inside the White Cube”, that not only created lots of buzz in the art world, but gave this popular mode of displaying work in museums and commercial galleries a catchy new name.
While his wonderful critique of the White Cube is better to read in the original form, I would like to focus on one psychological factor that made his essay become so well known.
We humans cannot experience our surroundings selectively, at least not as much as we’d like to. When looking at a red triangle, we can’t just decide to see it as a triangle or just as something red — we see both of its features at the same time.
Similarly with music; we can’t decide to hear just the tone of a note, while zoning out the colour of the sound (for example hearing the same note being played on a drum compared to a double bass or saxophone).
We as beings need context for just about everything in our lives — even our ability for differentiating object sizes and various temperatures is done by creating context from the surrounding environment. Ok, but you’re probably curious about how this has anything to do with your website, right?
Computer screens aren’t the best medium for communicating your art to potential buyers or gallerists, but they’re more or less all we’ve got when presenting our work on the web. And with Virtual Reality still not being as consumer friendly as the people in Silicon Valley would like it to be, we have to be smart about how we show our work online.
I find that the biggest issue today is the abundance of art websites and Instagram profiles showing cropped images of only the art. Rarely is it ever presented in an environment, be it real or made via a stock photograph background.
But, although I’m sure the artists showing such images have a really good understanding of the size, colour and textures of their work, it’s impossibly hard for anyone else to even know, if the work will fit in their home.
Sure, we all put measurements under our works (hopefully), but why make it hard for those few people that have landed on our page, despite there being hundreds of thousands of other artists with equally or even more beautiful web portfolios?
While the best way would be to make your own augmented reality app that would project your work directly onto the visual field of your smartphone’s camera, not a lot of us are programmers and getting one to build such a thing is expensive to say the least!
So why not get at least close to reality or even artificial reality and show your work not just as a clean, shadowless and speckless photograph with good colour correction (because the images should look identical to the real thing) but incorporate it into an environment, even a generic architectural shoot of a living room will be better than nothing.
Because, while the folks that arranged their exhibition spaces in white, almost immaculate areas of meditation were fantasising on how the visitors of such shows would leave their bodies at the door and step into the galleries or museums as pure beams of energy, it really never happened. All it ever did was make such shows look like a weird new-age religion praising the god of art.
Give your online images enough context and help your visitors understand the colours, sizes, textures and other features of your work by providing enough visual information.
Next time you’re in the studio, why not get a few more shots of some details, a side view and maybe even the back of the work — if it’s 2D — and give the person handling your postproduction (let’s not fool ourselves, it’s probably us doing everything!) an extra soy vanilla latte to place your work onto a nice background image with some fancy chairs.
Your viewers will thank you, and so will your bank account.