The Art of Lighting Art

The Art of Lighting Art

Choosing the right lighting for any space can be a complex decision. Considerations need to be made with respect to the purpose, form and function of the lighting application. Design and aesthetics also play a role in the equation. With so many options for lighting on the market, it takes specialized knowledge and understanding to determine the best fit for your space. Even more challenging than finding lighting for a generic space, an art gallery or museum application can be difficult and even overwhelming to light properly. LED lighting has simplified a large chunk of lighting for art display.

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Courtesy of Alcon Lighting

LED Lighting and Natural Sunlight: CRI and Color Temperature

Natural lighting is very important for displaying or producing art. Sunlight has the highest CRI (Color Rendering Index). CRI is the measurement of a light source’s capacity to accurately reveal the colors of various objects; the truest representation of the actual colors in the art piece. If natural lighting is inaccessible, LED lighting is as close to reproducing natural light as it gets. LED lighting mimics the properties of sunlight, specifically, CRI and light color temperature.

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Courtesy of Alcon Lighting

Contrary to popular belief, sunlight is not yellow. With color temperatures ranging from 5,200 Kelvin to 6,400 Kelvin, sunlight is actually blue. These are the closest temperatures artificial lighting can come to natural sunlight and it is also the color temperature range recommended for lighting art.

Benefits of LED Track Lighting

More art galleries and retail chains are making the switch from halogen and fluorescent lighting fixtures to LED track lights. Some initial concerns for smaller art galleries have been the upfront costs associated with considering LED track lighting – they are more expensive than the traditional halogens, however, LED track light prices have dropped to match halogen or fluorescent fixtures. Additionally, the benefits of using LED lighting for art, including art preservation (80 percent heat reduction from halogen) and lower electrical bills need to be factored into the whole decision.

LED lighting consumes a fraction of the power of traditional gallery lighting and heat radiation from some bulbs has become problematic. One of the most beneficial aspects of the LED track lighting option is that it decreases heat and increases color rendering. In any space, this is important but in a space such as an art gallery, they are crucial elements in display and preservation. In fact, even when dimmed, LED track lights retain their proper spectrum of light so true colors are properly displayed.

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Courtesy of Alcon Lighting

Impact of Color Temperature and Lighting in an Art Gallery

Natural lighting (sunlight) is often the ideal solution for art display, but this is simply not an option in most spaces. The next best thing is a well-lit studio, and this is where the technical factors come into play when selecting gallery lighting. Color temperatures and color rendering indexes are then used to get as close as possible to accurately displaying art. White light is measured at its purest at 6500K; many artists paint with bulbs closer to 5000K, which is less “blue” or cool. The more color from a light source, whether it’s a yellowish or a blueish hue, the more the original art colors are distorted when viewed. The aim is to get as close to pure white as possible.

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Courtesy of Alcon Lighting

Trimless Adjustable LED recessed lighting is a preferred option as well as professional track lighting. Adjustable recessed lighting provides a cleaner, more high-end look, preferable in lower-ceiling applications.


  1. LED lights with the right specifications (high CRI+ 5000K-5300K) render artwork colors with greater accuracy, as opposed to halogen or fluorescent lighting, which tends to distort colors by adding hues and tones (usually yellow and orange).
  2. LED lighting, unlike halogen lighting, does not contain heat and ultra violet (UV) rays which can oxidize pigments and cause other forms of damage to rare silks or old photographs and paintings.
  3. Directional lights such as track lighting and adjustable recessed lighting offer the most flexibility for light to be properly aimed at the desired art piece.

About the Author

David Hakimi is a lighting specialist and one of the co-founders of Alcon Lighting. A graduate of the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), David works on the front lines of the energy-efficient lighting revolution, enabling architects, designers, and lighting engineers to transition from outmoded halogen and fluorescent lighting to what David calls “the ideal replacement for all lighting applications,” —LEDs. David takes particular pride in Alcon’s design, energy, and green building knowledge, tracing his and Alcon’s commitment to quality, innovation, accountability and value back to the lessons learned from his father, a Southern California lighting salesman and consultant for more than two decades.

About this author
Cite: David Hakimi. "The Art of Lighting Art" 25 Nov 2019. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

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