Title:The Web and the Horse in the Cave: New Technologies and the Meaning of Art
Authors:Peter Walsh
Publication:MW98: Museums and the Web 1998

The advent of the World Wide Web and other technologies that quickly and easily distribute electronic reproductions of art images have led many to wonder if original art works have become obsolete or irrelevant in the new Information Age. Some museum professionals have even worried that the Web will eventually destroy the art museum altogether, once potential visitors and patrons have ready access to large numbers of digital art images in their own homes. This paper will look at the "the original" in an era of digitized reproductions to see if it has, in fact, lost its long-held power over the human imagination. The paper will begin with the biological origins of image-making in human pre-history and will examine how copies and reproductions have affected the cultural significance of art objects over the centuries, from Roman copies of Greek originals, to the engraved art reproductions of the Renaissance, the chromolithograph of Victorian times, to the high-tech reproductions of today. It will show how the process of reproduction itself changes meaning in art, in ways which are both positive and negative. It will conclude with an examination of how new technologies and the rapid distribution of art images are likely to change the meaning of the original in our own era.