Is smart art really art?

I couldn't visit the Louvre – so I brought the Louvre to me

Is smart art really art?

I’ve never been big on art. By which I mean art. My appreciation extends about as far as my stack of LP covers and a few Saul Bass prints I keep meaning to hang. And Robert Delaunay. I like Delaunay.

So when Meural asked me if I wanted to put its digital canvas in my house for a few days, I was a little unsure how to respond. The Canvas is a large screen within a frame that will display any picture your heart desires. Digital frames are nothing new, but when I think of them it’s photo slideshows of family memories that spring to mind, not Dali. The idea of a canvas displaying paintings from history’s great artists feels almost deceptive. But I wanted to see it for myself.

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So I had one shipped over, and as I write this, Dr Paul Gachet is looking across the room with his unmistakable melancholy gaze. But more concerning than his expression is just how real the painting looks. Van Gogh's brush strokes are convincingly vivid. If you don't get too close, it looks like the real deal.

Is smart art really art?

The canvas measures 29.5 x 19.2 x 1.6 inches, and weighs 20 pounds. So yeah, it's heavy, and you’ll want to use the cleat and screws included in the package to reduce any risk of this falling off the wall. You can hang it vertically or horizontally, and that frame comes in a Leonora Black, Leonora White or a walnut. I have the black.

It uses a matte display with in-plane switching tech (IPS), which keeps the sunlight glare to a minimum and ensures those colours are nice and vibrant no matter what angle you're admiring it from. There's an interesting gesture interface too, meaning you can wave a hand in front of the frame to switch the picture. During setup you have to connect it to the Wi-Fi, which allows your phone to communicate with it via the smartphone app and select the artwork you want on there.

As for what you'll be admiring, the Meural app comes with a library of works from new and emerging artists which you can browse by movements, styles or even by museum. Each one can be previewed on the canvas for 30 seconds, but you'll need to add them to a playlist to have them displayed permanently. I also like how the app is filled with little history lessons on types of art and the different artists; I've learned a lot since bringing the Canvas into my home.

Photography is more my bag, and there’s a lot of great stuff there too. Yesterday I had a rolling slideshow of photos from American photojournalist Eve Arnold. It doesn't have to be about great paintings or photos either: I made a playlist of some of my own amateur snaps, and I can see it being used for that purpose. If you want, you can subscribe to Meural’s membership plan for $40 a year, which gives you access to the full Meural library and exclusive works kept for paying patrons. Considering the Meural Canvas costs $595, though, it's a shame you have to pay even more to get everything.

Is smart art really art?

When it comes to using your own media, the Canvas is pretty versatile, supporting a wide range of picture and video formats. Yes, you can play videos on it too, but you won’t get sound. If a picture doesn’t quite stretch to the size of the display, you can choose the colour of the letterbox around it from black, white or grey. Or if it doesn’t match the aspect ratio, you can play with its position a little.

Oh yeah, and just recently Meural enabled an Alexa integration. So instead of swiping a hand across the frame or opening the app, you can just say, "Alexa, next on Meural" or you can ask the assistant to turn it off completely. That's the idea anyway, but I've had no luck getting Alexa to play along. Maybe it's my accent or maybe it's something else, but after enabling the skill and connecting my account, Alexa continues to be dumbfounded by my requests. I can see this being handy if you've hung the Canvas somewhere that's hard to reach – or if you're just a bit lazy sometimes, like me.

So how does it feel to have brought an art gallery into my home? Better than I thought. I do still feel like a bit of a fraud at times, especially when people don't realise it's a screen, but it surprised me how quickly the Canvas blended in with the rest of the room. Its strongest feat is that it doesn't look like technology. When I can't get the swipe mechanism to work, or Alexa to talk to it, then the tech rears its unsightly head.

But for $595 I could also bag myself a nice piece of real art – though, granted, not one that can magically transform. The Meural Canvas is a big luxury for people looking to bring art into their homes, but I can see more appeal for artists who want to display their own work. As for me, I'm starting to feel like quite the art connoisseur.


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