Google launched its Art Project today. The new service digitizes works from leading museums around the world. There are some obvious advantages to the program as well as some immediate drawbacks. The advantages come from liberating works from the confines of the museums and limitations of their collections. As authoritative as any museum hopes to be, its collection is always the product of chance and necessity. Google Artproject promises to allow ordinary people to experience art on an everyday level. It has a feature that allows users to create their own art collection.
Alistair Sooke in the Telegraph has already registered some objections to the program. Some don’t quite add up. On the one hand, he complains that the service isn’t comprehensive (and therefore, democratic enough.) On the other hand, he laments that Google Street View doesn’t replicate the experience of the museum enough. Democracy would mean liberating the works from the curatorial control of the museums themselves.
The worrying implication of their Art Project is that in the future there will no longer be any need to visit a museum. According to Google’s own press release, an image containing around 7 billion pixels allows the viewer “to study details of the brushwork and patina beyond that possible with the naked eye [sic]”. If Google’s technology trumps the powers of the naked eye, then why bother with reality at all? What can be gleaned from looking at Holbein’s Ambassadors on a trip to the National Gallery that cannot be enhanced by looking at a simulacrum of it on Google’s Art Project?
This is a profound philosophical problem, but my instinct is that I would much prefer to visit the National Gallery to see Holbein’s Ambassadors with my own eyes than to examine it through Google’s “super-high-resolution” prism. Every time. Google’s Art Project is a wonderful resource, but it is no substitute for the experiencing of looking at art for real.
Sooke’s fears are unfounded. Familiarity tends to breed the need to see something in person. Millions of people read the silly Da Vinci Code but then needed to go to the Louvre themselves (many went further and took tours based on the book.)
The more immediate problems with Google ArtProject lie with the system itself. If one creates an art collection on ArtProject, there is no way to present that on a smartphone or as a screen saver so the collection can be experienced in a passive way as with most art collections. Search also seems to be rudimentary within ArtProject. One cannot easily search on an artist’s name and see all of the works–across the global museums–by that one artist. In time, these features will surely be added, no?
The Problem with Google’s ArtProject (Telegraph)