Archive | April, 2012

What can the Google Art Project do for you?

4 Apr

If you’re not interested in art to begin with, not much of anything. You’ll probably still spend your time online watching videos of kittens on You Tube rather than browsing the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. But let’s assume for a minute you are curious about art. What benefit can an online depository of thousands or artworks have?

For lack of a better way of putting it, browsing through the Google Art Project is fun. It can bring back memories of certain museums and artworks or make you excited for your next trip by letting you preview the museums. I enjoyed virtually walking through the Pergamon Museum in preparation for an upcoming trip to Berlin, for example. I could browse the works of Vermeer from museums worldwide and enjoy the wonderful high-resolution images of them. The Google Art Project also saved me a trip to New York by letting me see that I would be duly impressed yet underwhelmed by the new Islamic Art Galleries in the Met. An art nerd can spend several hours perusing a site like this. I certainly did.

There’s also the fact that the Google Art Project can bring some uniformity to the often hit-and-miss nature of museum websites in displaying their collections. Using the technological and financial might of Google to put museums online ensures that images are of good quality, easy to navigate, and with proper descriptions. Many also feature videos and other resources for helping to understand a work of art. And of course there’s the added benefit of being able to find an artwork if you’re not sure which museum it’s in or what the title is. In short, it makes art more accessible online than it ever has been before.

For education as well the Google Art Project can be beneficial. Imagine a classroom of students studying American history being able to take a virtual tour of the White House or a math teacher being able to demonstrate the mathematical principles of Renaissance Art using the images from the Art Project. Right now the education page is limited to art history, but hopefully teachers will find a myriad of ways to use art in their classrooms when discussing all manner of topics.

For all that, the best thing about the Google Art Project is its promise of things to come. They are working to add more museums and artworks to the collection and will hopefully be able to fix some glaring omissions sometime soon, notably the Louvre and Prado. And perhaps it’s just me, but I could not find a way to browse by artists’ last names, only first. I may just have missed it, but I would think something like that would be beneficial. Many people probably don’t know to look for Monet under “Claude” or Caravaggio under “Michelangelo”.

And despite all the excitement over the Google Art Project in the art community it is severely lacking in options for users to really interact with the content. Aside from creating your own galleries or posting an image to your social network page, there’s no real chance to share your thoughts on a work of art or read someone else’s. The videos seem limited to the kind of “I know better than you” commentary that has plagued art museums for years. Why not open it up? Let someone post the work they did inspired by a Van Gogh. Have a link to the Kinks’ “Waterloo Sunset” on the page for one of Monet’s paintings of Waterloo Bridge.

The Google Art Project (like many art museums) needs to realize that “interactive” does not simply mean giving people more ways to access your opinion and the content you’ve created. Open up a dialogue. It’s not just my view, it’s been a dominant trend online and is one of the best ways for art museums to find their place in contemporary society. Until then, enjoy the gallery views and images of the Google Art Project. They really are lots of fun and promise to be even better in the future.