“If they want to have a Vermeer on their toilet paper, I’d rather have a very high-quality image of Vermeer on toilet paper than a very bad reproduction,” he said.
That’s Taco Dibbits (yes, that’s his name) talking about the Rijksmuseum’s decision to give aware high-quality images from the entire collection for individuals to use. Commercial use still requires purchasing the rights (if we’re reading the museum’s site properly) but individuals can play with images for their own use for free:
The museum, whose collection includes masterpieces by Rembrandt, Vermeer, Mondrian and van Gogh, has already made images of 125,000 of its works available through Rijksstudio, an interactive section of its Web site. The staff’s goal is to add 40,000 images a year until the entire collection of one million artworks spanning eight centuries is available, said Taco Dibbits, the director of collections at the Rijksmuseum.
“We’re a public institution, and so the art and objects we have are, in a way, everyone’s property,” Mr. Dibbits said in an interview. “‘With the Internet, it’s so difficult to control your copyright or use of images that we decided we’d rather people use a very good high-resolution image of the ‘Milkmaid’ from the Rijksmuseum rather than using a very bad reproduction,” he said, referring to that Vermeer painting from around 1660.
The Dutch are not the only ones doing this. A real trend among museums seems to be developing as more and more twig to the idea that the original becomes more precious to viewers with constant familiarity. Just look at the record price for Edvard Munch’s The Scream—a massively reproduced and repurposed image—far in excess of the rest of that truly important artist’s other work:
“We’ve gotten over that hurdle,” said Deborah Ziska, a spokeswoman for the National Gallery of Art in Washington. “I don’t think anyone thinks we’ve cheapened the image of the ‘Mona Lisa.’ People have gotten past that, and they still want to go to the Louvre to see the real thing. It’s a new, 21st-century way of respecting images.”
The National Gallery has so far uploaded about 25,000 works to share with the public. “Basically, this is the wave of the future for museums in the age of digital communications,” Ms. Ziska said. “Sharing is what museums need to learn to do.”
Museums Mull Public Use of Online Art Images (New York Times)