The authenticity of the museum experience in the digital age: the case of the Louvre

Abstract

The technological shift of museums is extensively documented, even if research on the impact of technologies on cultural practices and social patterns at large is still lacking. As part of a research programme conducted by the Louvre and HEC Paris, the article proposes a conceptual analysis of ‘real’ (visiting the museum) and ‘virtual’ (visiting its website) experiences of museums. It contributes to the understanding of whether the two experiences are substitutes or complements using a newly created measurement scale. In addition, the article also aims at enriching the contemporary discussion on the artworks’ aura and the authenticity of the cultural experience in the digital age.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Most of the existing research addresses the contents and the communication principles of museums’ websites or social medias (see, for example, Courtin et al. 2014), as well as the question of digital tools as possible new markets and products. Research concerned with the sociology of users, their socio-demographics, attitudes or representations is still lacking.

  2. 2.

    Obviously, there are some overlapping audiences between the networks: One may be connected simultaneously to Facebook and Twitter for instance.

  3. 3.

    A first qualitative phase explored the question of the crossed relationship (real and virtual practices) in order to study the contact with artworks in both museum and digital contexts and evaluate the Louvre’s website (www.louvre.fr). Twenty-nine face-to-face interviews and one focus group were carried out including French and foreign visitors of the Louvre. The second phase included two questionnaires which were administrated in French, English and Spanish in September and October 2010, the first one in situ, with 537 respondents, while the other was an online questionnaire administrated to website users: 5495 questionnaires were collected. As a whole, 6032 users answered both questionnaires independently of their use of the museum (real and/or virtual), including 47% of French respondents and 53% of foreigners.

  4. 4.

    A fourth category was excluded from our research: the ‘absolute’ non-visitors of the Louvre (museum and website).

  5. 5.

    Note that these results (size of the segments) are influenced by the research design: The online sample was ten times larger than the in situ one.

  6. 6.

    This distribution of visitors is similar to the one found by the ‘Louvre Public Barometer’, a quantitative survey conducted all year round by the museum.

  7. 7.

    Unless otherwise mentioned, a copy of an original work is legally considered as counterfeiting.

  8. 8.

    This debate is reinforced by new technologies (3D or augmented reality for instance) which allow for new modalities of access to artworks, including Internet (Google Art Project).

  9. 9.

    Multivariate analysis and reliability tests were conducted (factor analysis and Cronbach’s alpha) in order to validate the reliability of the scale.

  10. 10.

    ‘You can learn better on the Internet than in a museum’.

  11. 11.

    The Cronbach alpha is an estimate of the reliability of a psychometric test. It varies between 0 and 1, and higher values are more desirable.

  12. 12.

    Only the most significant results are presented here, although, due to the large size of the sample, small scores’ differences may be significant too.

  13. 13.

    Such an impact is also relevant between people living in the Paris region and people living in the French regions outside Île-de-France.

  14. 14.

    The administration of the questionnaire included the systematic random rotation of the scale’s fourteen items in order to reduce bias that may be introduced by the order in which choices are listed.

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Acknowledgements

The authors express their gratitude to Victor Ginsburgh for invigorating discussions and most valuable advice.

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Correspondence to Anne Krebs.

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Appendix: The real/virtual orientation scale

Appendix: The real/virtual orientation scale

I am going to read out some statements. For each one, please tell me if you agree completely, rather agree, neither agree nor disagree, rather disagree, completely disagree.Footnote 14

  Completely agree Rather agree Neither agree, nor disagree Rather disagree Completely disagree
1. Seeing works ‘for real’ in a museum or on the Internet, there’s no difference, the pleasure is the same      
2. On the Internet, I think that it’s more fun than visiting the museum      
3. Experiencing a visit in a museum, it’s unique      
4. Nowadays the quality of the photos allows to appreciate a reproduced art work just as much as its original      
5. On the Internet, you can really enjoy the works, without having anyone to bother you      
6. Nothing replaces contact with the art work      
7. Thanks to Internet, you can live again the emotion several times in front of the work      
8. You can learn better on the Internet than in a museum      
9. Thanks to Internet, you no longer need to go to a museum to see the works      
10. On a museum’s website, you have the impression of walking around the museum      
11. Internet provides access to works that you might not necessarily be able to see for real      
12. Leaving home to go to the museum is an effort, but it’s worth it      
13. The advantage of theatre is that you can see the actors for real      
14. Watching a movie on the Internet, is as good as seeing it in a movie theatre      

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Evrard, Y., Krebs, A. The authenticity of the museum experience in the digital age: the case of the Louvre. J Cult Econ 42, 353–363 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10824-017-9309-x

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Keywords

  • Art museums
  • Authenticity
  • Digital policies
  • Real/virtual relationship
  • Cultural audiences
  • Measures in art