The Art of the Teleconference

Transform your Zoom virtual background or computer desktop into a work of art

A photo of two women in front of an artwork

Choose your background.  A little bit country...with Albert Bierstadt's Among the Sierra Nevada, California, (right)...or, a little bit rock 'n roll with Gene Davis's Two Part Blue, (left). 

These are strange times at the Smithsonian American Art Museum and Renwick Gallery, with our buildings in Washington, DC closed temporarily as a public health precaution due to COVID-19, and many staff members working remotely. Like people around the world, SAAM staff are trying to remain hopeful about an end to the pandemic as we try to keep up with news that changes quickly from day to day.

Since we cannot welcome visitors into our physical buildings, I have spent a lot of time over the last week browsing and collecting together SAAM’s digital resources, which include online exhibitions, a huge library of videos and blog articles, and thousands of artworks recently released under a CC0 license as part of the Smithsonian’s Open Access initiative. What a comfort it has been to spend some time in the museum virtually, even if I cannot walk through the front door. Spending time thinking about the art and artists in our collection is a welcome distraction from the worries of the day to day. So, why not let artists enliven those long hours spent in front of a computer, or attending teleconference meetings on platforms like Zoom?

Use a SAAM Artwork as a Zoom Virtual Background

If you are a Zoom user, the virtual backgrounds feature adds a little something special to your teleconference, and also, conveniently, hides any untidy corners of your home (who has time to clean up clutter when we are so busy disinfecting phones and doorknobs?)

Set a SAAM Artwork as Your Desktop Background

A screenshot of an artwork

Of course, there's always Paris. H. Lyman Saÿen, Rooftops and Clouds, Paris, 1910-1912, oil on canvas, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of H. Lyman Sayen to his nation, 1967.6.14

Feeling a bit wishful for days of easier travel, I searched the collection for “Paris,” and among the results found a cityscape, Rooftops and Clouds, Paris, by H. Lyman Saÿen, a Philadelphia artist and scientist who helped to pioneer X-ray technology. He was also one of the first painters to introduce modern art to his hometown, before his early demise in 1918 at the age of 43. This particular work has no copyright restrictions, so it has a CC0 license, and also a download icon, which gave me the option of saving a high resolution JPEG, which at 3000 pixels wide was more than large enough to fill my computer monitor, keeping every brushstroke in detail.

I hope you’ll find a little inspiration in SAAM’s collection to brighten your digital workspaces. Art is all around us, even when times are tough, and sometimes these small things can end up making a difference.

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