This is a series of blog entries summarising my thoughts on an assignment given to me while studying the Digital Resources in Humanities module at UCL. This was to compare and evaluate my experience of a digital item with its real world surrogate; and I chose Turner’s Dido Building Carthage housed at the wonderful National Gallery.
The painting itself measures 155.5 x 230cm, and is hung at eye level. The size and scale of an artwork is intentionally decided by the artist and can be a focal point, which can be lost when viewing a digital surrogate on a screen. When viewing the Dido Building Carthage in the National Gallery, what strikes me personally is the very large size of the painting, and an experience is simulated of viewing the ancient scene of the building of Carthage as if I was standing on a balcony. It is specifically the size and scale of the painting that creates this profound impact on me. However, no similar interactivity happens when viewing the same painting digitally on a laptop screen, which is approximately seven times smaller than the original artwork. The sense of size and scale present in the real life painting is completely void in the digital representation, and as such, the viewer is not seeing the painting as the artist intended, and a great deal of the emotional impact and awe felt when viewing this masterpiece in real life is lost.
However, the digital surrogate does offer a zoomable image interface, which can enhance the user’s experience of the artwork and can reveal details that may be difficult to see on the real life artwork, particularly when the artwork is large. On the digital surrogate of Dido Building Carthage it is astonishing how much detail can be seen when zoomed in fully. This feature of the digital surrogate allows the viewer to experience the smallest details of the painting and provides them with a greater understanding in this respect than can be achieved by the original artwork, and this is extremely important when considering the qualitative difference in between the physical and digital experience.