Virtual museums just can’t compare to the real thing

Ruth Delaney

Does being a technical tourist from the comfort of your home give the same experience?

Cabin fever has well and truly kicked in, and the harsh reality of preparing to cancel holidays and summer plans has hit hard. The 2-kilometre walk and family movie night routine is getting old, so naturally, people are seeking any sort of new activity or hobby to pass the time.

Museums and galleries are taking advantage of this by bringing their experience right to your screen. They wish to keep their collections alive and visible, even if it can’t be in person. Services such as The Guardian have sent emails to their subscribers about virtual tours, and Google Arts & Culture have teamed up with world-famous exhibits, planting the idea of taking a virtual visit.

French Impressionist painter Renoir described museum and gallery visits as essential, saying, “the only way to understand a painting is to go and look at it.” Can this transcend through a screen, along with all social media distractions? The digital age has made almost anything possible, but can it make an online museum trip worthwhile?

Museums prefer you to investigate virtual galleries via your computer screen rather than your phone, as you can better appreciate the scale of the work. However, the textures, colours, and size of many works are often lost unless you absorb them in person. An exhibitions presentation is also vital, as the order or placement often tells a story as you stroll the halls.

NASA’s Space Centre has an app where you can indulge in their augmented reality experiences whenever you wish. The Guggenheim offers free online tours, providing an alphabetical list of artists to quickly navigate your favourites. These elements are naturally appealing as they save time, but the beauty of stumbling across works that were previously unknown to you is lost.

If you opt to take a museum tour, the guide can often make or break the experience. Sometimes your group is too large, the tour goes too quickly, or the guide simply isn’t meeting the mark. At least online you can choose to turn the audio off, if there is any, and scroll at ease. La Louvre offers a 360-degree view, so you need not fret about mass crowds blocking your view.

Exhibitions often have expiry dates, yet on some gallery and museum websites such as The National Gallery of Art, audio and visual recordings of past exhibitions is available, so you can still access them when they end.

Overall, virtual tours are an excellent way to explore exhibitions at your own ease and decide if a museum is worth visiting in the future. Yet it must be said, although the internet is great, the beauty of experiencing works in person is far greater.

Ruth Delaney

Image Credit: Natural History Museum London