Google Art Project

Google Art Project launched yesterday to an effusive wave of rejoicing at this new integration of technology and culture. With the same systems and cameras it used to create Street View, Google has teamed up with museums all over the world to provide virtual gallery access and high-resolution, magnifiable images of some of the world’s best art. Zooming in to see the brushstrokes of the lion’s mane in Rousseau’s Sleeping Gypsy was like discovering the secret life of an old friend. I got chills.

But it would be absurd to say that seeing an image on Google Art Project is better than seeing it in real life as Parminder Bahra implied in a post for The Wall Street Journal’s tech blog.

Nothing can substitute the experience of being with a work of art– seeing its scale, its context, its colors undistorted by a camera. I am much more sympathetic to the idea of Art Project as a supplement to the museum experience, as related by Mike Collett-White at the L.A. Times. Maybe they will even team up with Smart History!!

As for the program itself—meh.  It just plops you right into the middle of one of the galleries. And it is difficult to get my bearings without moving through a regular gallery path. Where’s the front of this thing? Have I missed a room?

And it isn’t THAT navigable. Trying to get around The Frick with my arrow keys, I kept accidentally moving out to the exterior on 5th Ave. The feeling that I am playing a computer game is only enhanced by Google’s suggestion that I create a virtual art collection of my own. Clicking around The Frick’s interior (I finally found the door), I feel pressure to collect as many paintings as possible so that I can earn cool points in the art world. Will future employers consider my skill as a digital curator?! Eek! Except the art choices are already limited; one can only add works that have been pre-selected by the museum. So, in The Frick, while I can add Turner’s The Harbor of Dieppe, I can’t add Veronese’s The Choice Between Virtue and Vice.

But Google Art Project will be a great tool for reference. I anticipate using it in the future to refresh my memory of a painting or its context. And I’ll be able to use images from the site, enabling me to forego the vulgar act of snapping a picture in the gallery with my iPhone.

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