An article in today’s New York Times describes the new Google Art Project. This is Google’s latest info/data binge, as it pursues its goal of organizing all the world’s data. It harks back to a book I bought many years ago in which an artist created an imaginary museum that he would like to visit. It’s an old idea, and an intriguing one for art lovers.
The article gives a review that is generally favorable, and enthusiastic, with several warnings about it being a work in progress. The title makes a knowing reference to Walter Benjamin’s famous essay, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. I took a look.
These are my reactions:
- Why would you want to ‘navigate’ through a ‘virtual 3-D’ museum as you do on Google street view? It’s incredibly awkward, and the point is to look at the art anyway, not the museum. Unless it’s a building with historical interest. My stroll down Versailles’ Hall of Mirrors wasn’t very illuminating…
- A lot of museums and universities (here’s a favorite: NYPL) have very good online sites that make much of their collection available, with a lot more information, context, and technological elegance. I don’t see that the Google site offers anything. The reviewer addressed some of this, but asserts that the United Nations aspect of the site – it brings together museums from all over the world – is a valuable feature.
- I would much rather see Google funding the creation of sites by specific museums than trying to do it all itself, with the obvious publicity advantages accruing to their stockholders.
- Some of the high-resolution images are truly incredible.
- Although the images may be more faithful than what you can get from most art books, there is much to be said in favor of the book format over this sort of online browsing. For doing research, as opposed to browsing, the Web and Google are magnificent.
- The reviewer says: From where I sit Google’s Art Project looks like a bandwagon everyone should jump on. It makes visual knowledge more accessible, which benefits us all. Who would argue against the idea that the more that is available on the Web, the better? But I have my doubts about whether Google is providing an improvement on the current experience of reproductions, which are the “next best thing” to viewing the actual art. Nor do I think that the dessimination of [visual] information is the same as the spread of [visual] knowledge. That is a misconception of The Information Age, which is to say, The Age of Google.
This concludes yet another dyspeptic rant by yours truly.