In Praise of the Website Previously Known as Google Art Project

In Praise of the Website Previously Known as Google Art Project

Google Art Project, while still obscure, has grown up a bit. It has taken on a new name: The Google Cultural Insitute. How truly stuffy of them. Art Project had such a nice simple ring to it. Want to learn about art? Go to the Google Art Project! Now you have to attend the Cultural Institute and hope that your attire is up to the standards of Google.

Seriously though, if you haven’t used Google’s Cultural Institute, give it a whirl. The idea is simple. Google’s people have gone to several famous museums throughout the world and taken very high resolution (gigapixel) images of some of the greatest works of art out there. You can literally zoom in and see brush strokes on a Van Gogh. You can get much closer digitally than you could in a real museum. The images are breathtaking and allow the viewer to really get to know a work of art.

In my Humanaities class, our students present an Aesthetic Appreciation Paper to the class. They choose a work of art and then they break it down into categories for discussion. What do you see? What do you feel? What do you associate with? And what does it all mean?

In the past, students had been using Google Image search to find art work. This led to many basic issues. First of all, quality was always questionable. There is no way a 800×600 version of a great Monet is going to do it justice. Then there is the question of “where did that picture come from?” I noticed that some paintings that students would find did not match the versions I had seen before. They had been cropped. Colors were altered. Something just wasn’t right about them.

Enter the Google Art Project. I found this website a few years ago, and it instantly changed my approach to the art presentation. I created a folder for works from the various eras we were studying. I sent this link to students to help them narrow down their art choices. This way, I can guarantee that the students are picking a quality work of art that has a known pedigree.

And the fun doesn’t stop there. Not only does the Cultural Institute offer all these amazing paintings and museums for our persual for free, it also offers a “Details” tab for each work of art that gives museum quality information about each work. Students can find out quite a bit about each painting without having to risk wikipedia or some other questionable website. They are getting information directly from the source. Sometimes curators have even created videos to explain the works of art.

I will admit that some of the tools are clunky. I still struggle to add new works to my collection. But I’m sure Google will iron out the bugs and make it simpler to use and more integrated with other Google products. Right now, I invite you to go there to just walk through the halls of and of the 361 museums including the MOMA, Musée d’Orsay, or even the Uffizi Gallery. To see these amazing works in this way will simply take your breath away.

So don’t feel too put out by the name change. The Cultural Institute is still an amazing place to visit.


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