Google Art Project: An New Art Viewing Experience

On Tuesday Google unveiled an astounding new venture for enjoying art.  Called Google Art Project, it is a website that allows viewers to explore some of the most famous museums in the world, all from the comfort of their own homes.  Using a similar format as street view on Google Maps, users can navigate through the halls of seventeen different art institutions.  The featured museums include the Freer Gallery of Art, The Museum of Modern Art, The National Gallery in London, and the State Hermitage Museum.  All of the photographs must have been taken after hours, as no museum goers are visible.  The website visitor therefore gets the experience of being alone in the some of the most tourist-heavy museums in the world, a rare experience indeed.  While the walkthrough feature is impressive, the paintings on the walls appear a bit blurry.  The website also has an art viewer feature that allows visitors to zoom in masterpieces from the museums.  Google used a “gigapixel” process to stitch together multiple high-resolution images.  According to Amit Sood, the leader of the Google Art Project, there are on average seven billion pixels per high resolution image.  That is a thousand times more pixels than the average digital camera.  Another interesting feature is “Create an Artwork Collection”.   This allows users to save images and build their own personalized collection.  Comments can be added to the paintings, and then shared with others.  This feature could prove to be both a fun interactive and a useful tool for the classroom.

A close up of a high resolution image of Starry Night. The image is so high quality that the canvas is visible.

Another close up of Starry Night

This fascinating new website raises many questions.  While the Google Art Project is a great alternative for those who can’t afford to travel, can the virtual experience replace actually visiting the museum? Will the Google Art Project cut down on museum visiting numbers, or will it inspire more people to come and see the art in person?  Will museums lose important sources of revenue if high quality images can be easily obtained for free from the Google Art Project, instead of purchased from the institution?  Will having access to extremely high resolution images prove to be a valuable tool for art historians?

As this feature was just unveiled on Tuesday, it remains to be seen what affect it will have on the art world, both scholarly and popular.  Regardless, it can’t be denied that the Google Art Project will make the art of some of the most renowned art collections in the world widely available to the general public.  To judge for yourself click here- http://www.googleartproject.com/

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