I am currently reading Peter Watson's excellent A Terrible Beauty, subtitled "The people and ideas that shaped the modern mind". Reading the section on modernist painters it became clear that visiting galleries showing each other's work and that of their predecessors made a huge impact on them. Imaging walking into a room filled with large canvasses by Cezanne or Braque when you have never seen anything like it before–literally. And if you didn't get to the galleries there was a good chance that you wouldn't get to know what the paintings were like until someone published a book of prints, and even then those books would be expensive.
In contrast I am able to pick up my iPad, do an image search, and bring up every one of the images mentioned in the book instantly. Any aspiring artist today has inspiration and example at their fingertips.
Is it too easy? Do we know a little about everything but a lot about nothing? Was it better when the first sight of a new style of painting was full size and in the flesh? But then that opportunity was only available to the privileged few and now anyone can experience their impact, albeit diminished.
This is not just about the internet dumbing things down, TV and magazines had already expanded the reach of new images. The internet does extend this reach but does the speed and ease with which we can access everything have to mean a slide into superficiality? Or does it trigger more people to make the effort to understand new things, to dig deeper into subjects that have piqued their interest? I guess it is up to us.