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Google’s Art Project

March 3, 2011
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Google Art Project

Google has moved from the street into art museums with the Google Art Project. Their Street View gives us the ability to jump from a map of lines and symbols to photos of streets, sidewalks, and buildings. The Art Project lets us visit 17 museums around the world. We can check out these museums without having to buy a plane ticket or deal with the lag of adjusting to another time zone.

Google’s Art Project lets us go on two tracks: virtually stroll through the 17 participating museums and get up close to their artwork.

Of these two tracks, I’m not that wild about the virtual strolling. On car trips, sometimes the scenery is amazing to see, and sometimes it’s not all that exciting. Same with hallways in art museums. But some museum rooms — like great scenery — are beautiful. Two examples: Palacio de Cristal at the Museo Reina Sofia in Madrid and the Palace of Versailles, where the walls and ceilings are spectacular art. I don’t know if I’ll ever visit these places, so it’s great to explore them through the scenes provided by Google’s Street View technology.

However, I’m a big fan of the second thrust of the project — of viewing the art itself. Each museum has a list of artwork that can be seen. And not just seen: There’s the ability to really study the works by zooming in to see incredible detail. Zip in on van Gogh’s The Starry Night to see the sky’s brushworks of blended shades of blues. You can make out cracks in the paint, even the texture of the canvas where ole’ Vincent didn’t cover with his passionate painting. Sandro Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus is available, too, in colors more muted than Vincent’s, but no less beautiful is that famous image of Venus on the shell with her long, wind-swept hair. These are two very popular paintings — but you can find many others in the project.

Also, you can learn about each piece of artwork by clicking the italic i on the right side. A side panel gives the vital statistics of measurements and materials, as well as history of the artwork and the artist.

My one complaint about the project is that I haven’t come across much in the way of modern artwork, say, post-World War II. So far in my exploring, it seems that Museum Kampa in the Czech Republic has the most recent artwork. It’s possible that I haven’t run across more recent works, as I haven’t clicked on all 17 museums just yet.

I’ve also discovered that YouTube is a great resource for viewing artwork — not just goofy videos.

A good example is Mark Rothko. I used to simply think he was that guy who painted rectangles that blurred together. But when I saw the Rothko episode of Simon Schama’s Power of Art, I discovered that Mark was up to more than showing us that he can choose colors that look nice together. The story is usually deeper than you think, right?

Schama’s episode gave me a deeper background on this modern artist, and then videos on YouTube took the baton with creative presentations. This Rothko (Tribute) by MattF05Uk moves around Rothko’s paintings while “Videotapes” by Radiohead plays… it’s a nice pairing, and the visuals of the paintings really draw me in (after I maximized the video to my full screen). Mark Rothko to Welcome Ghosts by sift74 is another good one, with music from Explosions in the Sky.

Now that I’ve gushed about Google’s Art Project and YouTube as resources, I have to say that I prefer seeing artwork in person. Sure, Google will save me airfare and adjusting to time zone changes — and YouTube can accompany paintings with groovy, atmospheric music. But in the end, the art is still on my computer screen. It’s not there, in front of me, in its actual size to knock me over with its beauty. Here, Google has an advantage, though, by letting me zoom in to the tiny details. To get that close in real life, my nose would touch the painting and museum guards would haul me away.

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