Polluting Realism: the Benefits and Consequences of Technological Advancements in Fine Art


Polluting Realism: the Benefits and Consequences of Technological Advancements in Fine Art

Throughout history, the enjoyment of fine art and historical masterpieces was a luxury exclusive only to the wealthiest members of society. The only way art historians could read into the minds of long-dead works was by looking at documents, exhibition information, and the chemical makeup of the pieces. Now, art can be perceived under multiple technological lenses, helping the world better understand the historical context of a piece while revolutionizing how it is presented in a public setting.

Waterloo Bridge, Claude Monet. Image courtesy of Christie
Waterloo Bridge, Claude Monet. Image courtesy of Christie's

Revolutionizing Perception: Polluted Realism

An astonishing example of art historians and scientists collaborating to understand masterpieces throughout history better is the recent breakthroughs in Monet’s work.


As the Industrial Revolution barreled through Europe, his paintings became hazier and clouded. Climate scientists have linked data from climate patterns in industrial-age western Europe to the opacity levels in Monet’s paintings, proving that his revolutionary lens of impressionism was tied to air pollution in the settings he painted.

Air pollution scatters sunlight, causing objects to appear smudged with blurry edges. It’s the same reason why there is a correlation between smog levels and traffic accidents in China. The culprit for the ever-looming smog in Monet’s paintings likely came from 19th-century coal plants. Scientists observed a similar trend in Joseph Mallord William Turner’s paintings. In each artist’s collection, there is a gradual shift in color palette and image sharpness. Scientists observed this trend from 1796 to 1801 in Turner’s work, and from 1864 to 1901 in Monet’s.

Previous theories about the blurry appearance in some of his paintings involved the development of cataracts during his career. However, such a medical condition takes decades to develop and does not fully align with the timeline of his artwork. There are other theories involving short-term weather patterns that continue to circulate, but this new theory involving climate data on historical air pollution has caught the attention of news outlets worldwide. It’s a prime example of 21st-century technology finding useful data in 18th and 19th-century impressionism. Monet’s Bridge Over a Pond of Water Lilies now also connects art history to earth and environmental sciences. 

Revolutionizing Place: AR Technology and Virtual Galleries

Interacting with CityCluster, photo by Franz Fischnaller.
Interacting with CityCluster, photo by Franz Fischnaller

Virtual galleries became more prominent than ever in response to the pandemic. Now, exhibits and galleries are more accessible than ever before. Artists curate every pixel of a space for viewers to enjoy, even down to the space that viewers navigate with their keys.


An example of a virtual gallery is The Greats. The works were created by Wolfgang Beltracchi, one of the people behind a massive art forgery scam in the early 2000s. After he was released from prison, he continued the create art, the legal condition being it could only be under his own name. As an alternative to faking pieces, he reimagined different artworks in the style of different artists, revealing just how many avenues a piece can take if it comes from a different mind.


These galleries are an all-win situation for artists and viewers alike. If someone is just starting out as an artist and does not have access to the necessary connections to show art in a gallery, they can focus their efforts on digital spaces and have full control of the space their art is represented in. If someone loves art but does not have adequate access to a gallery or museum, these digital spaces provide a space to support artists from all points in their career and can be enjoyed from anywhere with an internet connection. More art curated, more art viewed, and more art cherished.

Revolutionizing Experience: Immersive Exhibits and VR Galleries

Vincent Van Gogh Exhibit at the Wellington Waterfront where his work was projected on shipping containers
Vincent Van Gogh Exhibit at the Wellington Waterfront where his work was projected on shipping containers

As digital exhibits increased in popularity, so did the prevalence of immersive exhibits, where utilizing technology aimed to merge the experience of physical and virtual art together. If I see one more ad for the “Immersive Van Gogh Experience,” I might just lose my mind.


I have never been to an immersive Van Gogh exhibit, but from what I’ve researched, there are different kinds of exhibits on tour. One is described as “much more of an experience,” and from what those who have been to both tours have said, this is the better of the bunch, providing extensive research on Van Gogh’s life and how the group elevated their understanding of his life into a multidisciplinary setting. On the other hand, another touring exhibit is described as “a 45-minute loop of a video that’s projected on walls”  and, from the images alone, looks like a graphic design project put together on a Smartboard and smacked onto a room large enough to fit ticketed patrons in.


Lots of immersive exhibits offer an excellent electronic and mobile perspective to an otherwise static piece. However, there is a difference between an immersive experience of an artistic installation and projections of historical masterpieces on a wall to generate a profit.

Monet Cross Bridge
Charing Cross Bridge, Claude Monet


Technological media continues to adapt and innovate every day. Virtual galleries will never match the experience of viewing a work of art in person, but technological breakthroughs such as virtual galleries help bring the arts to people who might not have access to museums, galleries, and studios. Some immersive exhibits are another great example of bridging the gaps between art, technology, and society. However, the motivation to commodify a concept into oblivion must be kept in check to ensure that these resources are not cut off from the public. In addition, approaching these types of exhibits with a mindset of marketability leads to a profit-driven washout already parroted in other industries. There is already an issue in over-saturation selling art merchandise with companies slapping  Van Gogh’s artwork on fabric dye to turn a profit, immersive exhibits deserve better than that.

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