J. M. W. Turner (1775-1851) was growing up, and remains to this day, one of my favourite artists. He painted, printed and drew prodigiously, leaving to posterity a collection of more than 550 oil paintings, 2,000 watercolours and 30,000 works on paper.
Part of my fascination with Turner stems from my god-father, who wrote the book Angel in the Sun, about Turner’s vision of history. He sent me a copy in the late 1990s when I was in my first flush of university study, an impressionable age, and my interest in Turner’s work has blossomed ever since.
Given my fondness and personal connection to the old master, I am uncertain what to make of the National Gallery digitising his work and releasing it for use as a backdrop for video calls. Not just Turner’s work, but a host of other luminaries from the art world. If a single work doesn’t tickle your fancy, then you can opt to use an image from one of their galleries, giving the impression you are streaming live from the National Gallery’s hallowed halls.
In a sense there is much to commend the program. As security experts make clear, it is generally easier to hack people than systems. Meaning a video call from your home can reveal a raft of information which would make it that bit easier for a criminal to hack your life. To that end, replacing images of your home with a more generic image has security and privacy benefits.
Given Turner was something of the privacy advocate in his own day, going to the effort during the 1841 census of rowing a boat into the Thames so he could not be counted as being present at any property, it is perhaps fitting his work is used for the furtherance of online privacy.
Good night, and good luck.