Posted by Rachel Faulkner,
May 02, 2012
Last week the now infamous Google Art Project ran a major advertising campaign on YouTube.
Intrigued, we discovered that it recently broadened its remit to include a further 151 cultural institutions and now covers over 40 countries across the globe. That’s a lot of art! Even the Obamas have leapt onto Google's bandwagon and anyone, anywhere can now gawk at the chandelier clad rooms of the White House.
This is a project which is close to our hearts at Total Media, largely because we’re a bunch of art lovers but also because a considerable number of our clients are in the arts sector. Among the new recruits are London’s Victoria & Albert Museum, and The Imperial War Museum, who have both allowed Google to get up close and personal with some of their most extraordinary treasures.
Google’s street view technology not only allows us to roam the corridors of these famous galleries and museums with the click of a mouse but it also lets us witness, in minute detail, the splendour of the Armada Jewel and the likes of Rosetti’s beautiful painting The Daydream. The experience is strangely addictive, particularly when its high resolution view allows you to see more than the naked eye does on a typical gallery visit. Whilst digital art usually consists of perfection, airbrushing and hyperreality, Google’s Art Project tool lets you see the tiny brush strokes, the imperfections and the subtleties which make art, well…art.
A project with pitfalls
It’s not all about marvelling at life’s masterpieces though. For Google, the project has brought with it the pesky issue of copyright law. Once upon a time original art works such as Botticelli’s Birth of Venus could only be seen by those lucky enough to visit the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. Now, users can not only scrutinize it with a super human lens, they can also post it to a Facebook account, or pin it to their Pinterest boards, giving visibility to an infinite number of people. Some would say this is fantastic, only Google has allegedly shrugged off the responsibility of obtaining permissions from the people who own the rights to these works. As the New York Times recently reported, this has been left to the galleries themselves to obtain. For this reason, there are comparatively few artworks from the 20th century on display through the project. The permissions simply haven’t yet been given.
Another pitfall is that the virtual capturing of these galleries is done at a fixed time, and at this stage Google has no way of keep up to date with the changing exhibits which make major galleries so successful. This means a person who feels they have navigated the hallways of the Tate Britain has, in fact, only seen the Tate of a few months ago, meaning effect isn’t as authentic as it would seem. Not only that, but it bypasses the awe and wonder which is usually the product of a real-life gallery visit. As Claire Gould (curator at Helsinki Art Museum and sister of our very own Leila!) says, “Art should have a value as an original, or as an experience that you cannot get elsewhere. This tool diminishes the experience of art, since it flattens the works through its digitalization.”
Has Google got it right?
There is one silver lining to all this, and that is the Google Art Project is effectively bringing museums to the masses; anyone, regardless of economic or cultural capital, can gorge themselves on fine art from the comfort of their own home, office or classroom. They can even 'curate' their own personal gallery by collecting their favourite art works and sharing them with friends. For this, Google has to be applauded. We're all for reaching the masses here at Total Media, and we'd have to agree with anything which supports people subscribing to the arts. Will our clients see a rise in visitors to the galleries themselves though? We'll have to wait and see.