Technology at The Service of Art – An Interview with Second Canvas Co-Founder

by | Sep 13, 2016

The Artian is happy to host Victoria Aróstegui as a guest interviewer on the topic of Art, Technology, and Entrepreneurship

The Artian: Iñaki could you please briefly introduce MadPixel?

Iñaki Arredondo: We founded Madpixel back in 1999 here in Madrid in order to provide Internet solutions that combine creativity, design, and technology. Currently, we are doing two main things: Magazine which is a cloud platform to create interactive magazines on the web, tablets, and smartphones, and the second one is Second Canvas in which we are creating high-resolution images of artworks which in turn we put on a platform to provide a different experience to users through art in educational institutions as well as cultural institutions like museums.

TA: What led you to start Second Canvas? I guess my question, is what attracted you to the art world?

IA:  First, it came from the fact that in Madpixel we use technology to digitize artworks in a super high resolution. We have some people loving photography and other fields of art in the company, so it kind of came naturally when we started that. When we created Second Canvas it was mainly focused on super big images with perfect detail and quality, changing experiences, and not necessarily to complete or enhance the experience at a museum. When we started we actually thought about those that, for some reason, are not able to go to a museum.

We realized that by creating super high-resolution images we are able to communicate the stories about paintings, sculptures, and any other piece… Information that you would find only if you visit a museum with an art expert in order to understand what are you in front of, why is it so important and how is that painting connected with you and with your life.

Foto by Alfredo Arias @GQ

Foto by Alfredo Arias @GQ

We decided to create a platform for users to discover a new way to experience art, to interact with art, and also a tool for museums to create an experience that they could manage by themselves. We think it’s a good idea!

TA: Tell us more about Second Canvas: What is unique about it?

IA: Second Canvas is actually a new way to experience art through tablet and smartphone devices, combining ultra-HD gigapixel images, storytelling, gamification, and social sharing. What I think is the most unique in the platform is the ability to create a meaningful story. We work together with museums to talk about other, not common, stories that we integrate into the app. However, while app and technology move fast, museums are less prone to rapid changes, which means that many times we jump in to provide help in creating professional content and analyze with them what can work better.

TA: What are the benefits/gains for users using Second Canvas works? What is their experience?

IA: Our work is always focused on the end-users and their experience. Since we deal with the visual world and our platform can be displayed on digital devices, smartphones, tables, also on a website, and very soon on TV, we make sure we can integrate feelings and knowledge that can enhance the user experience: on the way they will discover, interact and engage with art.

Museums as customers are more challenging in that sense.  Second Canvas is interesting to them since it is a tool that can be used as Content Management System that operates behind the app. As clients, they get an online tool that they can manage by themselves; editing and updating the content without uploading again to the AppStore or Google Play. Easy and comfortable – That’s the way we work with institutions.

Some of our users said “I want this app in all museums. For me, this is a game-changer and I think that till today art was boring but now I want more.’’ When you put this in the hands of museums, some people at museums can sense this feeling from visitors and therefore they work hard to incorporate it. Other people may think “Why do I need this. It’s one more app, more work and I have tons of work to be done”.  Working with museums is challenging because they require much more time in integrating and implementing systems, at least at the first stage.


TA: Understanding its model, I believe Second Canvas is a disruptive changer in the art world since it changes the way we perceive art. Therefore, we would like to know what is the role you will give to Second Canvas?

IA: You have different paths. One of them is to reach the target audience of museums. Museums are now focused on people that love art. They are providing amazing things inside the museums and stories around it; people go there to experience it. What we want to change and currently changing is that you can also reach other people that might not be interested in art at the beginning but when discover this new way of interacting with art getting the “Wow! This is another thing. This is not what I studied at school that was so boring for me. I want to know more, I want to see more and I want to physically go to the museum and see the piece”.

Another role of Second Canvas is to be an educational tool for kids and adults. It’s a very interesting way to learn, discover and understand art. Using the maximum gigapixel detail enables us to talk about the techniques, styles, the development of the painting, and when we use the multi-layer feature [Showing the paintings X-rays] users can see the infrared photography, we can talk about how the artwork was done and all the changes the artist did.

Some people discover that the sketch and the final piece are not the same and that art masters changed their minds during the creation of a painting. It’s something very obvious for people used to talking about art but very new for the rest of us.

TA: And do you see change among the young generation? Do you really believe it makes change?

IA: I will answer this with a story. Before launching the first version of the Second Canvas app, we created several sessions with kids to test the app at home and at school.

One of the sessions at school was with kids sitting, not interacting with screens, just sitting and listening. We showed gigapixel images, showed Second Canvas storytelling. In the beginning, they were a bit shock, then they started asking questions. In twenty minutes they were jumping from their chairs and wanted to touch the projector in the classroom wanting to know more.

After 2 hours we had to stop the session but they still wanted to know more so we gave them iPads to try it and needed to end it after 45 more minutes. Even though the whole session lasted for 3 hours they wanted to know more and this is a real thing; this is what is happening and we believe there are many opportunities in this direction.


TA: Art is a very traditional world where there is a lot of creativity and innovation, but not in the way on how it operates. Why would you say there are very few technology-based startups in the art world?

IA: First,  because it’s a market where you cannot make money easily.

Second, museums are very interesting institutions, yet, they have a traditional way of thinking and they are slow in operating. Usually, entrepreneurs move three times faster than the average person, meaning much faster than museums.

TA: What were some of the biggest lessons that you have learned from being an entrepreneur in the art world? 

IA: That you need patience!

Also, don’t think that working with the digital departments of museums makes it easy. These departments are a good touchpoint to start with but these teams are fighting as well inside a museum to make things better. You have to involve directors, curators, other experts, restorators… And this is really hard. When you manage to involve and engage all these people, this when you can have success. Then the user experience is amazing because it takes the minds and hearts of people working in museums, not a simply digital thing.

TA: Are there any recommendations you can give to entrepreneurs in the art world?

IA: It’s hard, but it’s worth it. There are a lot of things involved in having technology at the service of art, and not just having technology because it’s the latest trend and cool. The good thing is that you are working with art and art is very powerful.  It’s much harder for entrepreneurs to work with any other kind of material or product. Working with art is impressive for you and for users. There is a lot of space for entrepreneurs in the art world. I think it could be a really good experience for both startups and museums to learn from each other.

Victoria Aróstegui is a freelance writer, artist and passionate about fine art based in Madrid. She studied Fine Arts and Art Business at Sotheby’s Institute of Art in London. She worked with different players in the market and also on her own entrepreneurial art project in Spain, UK, and Switzerland. 

Iñaki Arredondo will present Second Canvas at TheArtian’s Art&Tech events series at Google Campus Madrid on Monday, September 19, 7:00 PM. For details and registration press.

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